Leaders Discuss Using WPI Research to Fund Women and Girls

For those of us studying funding for women and girls and/or doing the actual funding, it’s often helpful to get together and talk about the data. It’s also elucidating when feminist giving leaders reveal how they use research to make funding for women and girls more plentiful and impactful.

These and other important topics about feminist giving were the subject of discussion in a recent webinar hosted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI).

Jeannie Sager, Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, moderated a recent webinar with feminist giving leaders, discussing the Women and Girls Index. (Image Credit: WPI)

Jeannie Sager, Director of WPI, welcomed guests and thanked people for making time to discuss the state of giving for women and girls causes as laid out by the Women and Girls Index (WGI), which is now in 2.0 or second edition. WGI provides key insights and measurements on giving to women and girls’ causes. Sager noted that The WGI is the “only comprehensive index that measures charitable giving to women and girls in the U.S.”

She then provided brief introductions of Sarah Haacke Byrd, Executive Director at Women Moving MillionsMegha Desai, President of The Desai Foundation; and Deborah Singer, Chief Marketing Officer at Girls Who Code. “These are leaders who devoted their careers to uplifting girls not only in United States but around the world.”

Sager discussed the importance of the work these leaders to do catalyze more funding for women and girls. She also stressed the value to our world of improving funding for women and girls, “particularly as we come out of the pandemic.”

WGI First Released in 2019, Now in Second Year

Sager provided some context by noting that the first edition of the WGI was released in 2019 and provided a snapshot of IRS data for 2016, which is “the most recent year for which finalized IRS data was available at the time.” Sager pointed out that the 2020 index adds significantly to the existing data by providing historical data from 2011 to 2016, as well as updated date for 2017.

This made for the “first longitudinal look at how support has changed in recent years,” for women and girls’ funding, said Sager.

First WGI Report Caused Quite A Stir

Sager described the way in which the news from the first edition of WGI — that funding for women and girls is a mere 1.6% of all philanthropy, caused “quite a stir.” O Magazine, the magazine created by legendary Oprah Winfrey, featured a story about WGI’s findings, and Women Moving Millions used the research as a central point in its Give Bold, Get Equal campaign to raise an additional $100 million for women and girls by 2022.

The WGI is a survey of 47,000 organizations across the U.S., said Sager, which constituted 3.4 % of all nonprofit organizations in 2017. As examples of the kinds of organizations aggregated for the WGI data, Sager cited Planned Parenthood and Girls Inc., as well as collectives, such as the Junior Leagues and Women’s Auxiliaries.

Total Funding Reached 7.1 billion in 2017

While funding increased from 2016 to 2017 from 6.3 billion to 7.1 billion, said Sager, the percentage of funding remained the same — 1.6%. Over the overall 432.1 billion that goes to nonprofits in the U.S., funding for women and girls remains a very small percentage.

“Reproductive rights saw big growth — 33.7% in 2017 alone, more than three times that of women and girls’ organizations overall in 2017,” said Sager.

Government Funding for Women and Girls Growth Much Higher

Sager shared that 2020 WGI looks at government support for women and girls as well, and that research brought some very good news. “Growth in government grants to women and girls was much higher, 34.4 percent,” said Sager.

“Research is just the beginning,” she added. “It’s what you do with it that matters.”

Sager suggested organizations use the WGI to help set future fundraising goals.

“Donors can use the information to inform decisions,” she added, and emphasized that the list of organizations is “a publicly available index.”

Sarah Haacke Byrd of Women Moving Millions Discusses WPI Research

Sarah Haacke Byrd, Executive Director of Women Moving Millions, discusses how WPI’s research helped inform their Give Bold, Get Equal campaign. (Image Credit: WPI)

Sarah Haacke Byrd, Executive Director of Women Moving Millions, began by providing an overview of WMM’s membership. Comprised of 340 women in 16 countries around the world, each member of WMM makes a $ 1 million or more commitment to funding gender equality. Haacke Byrd divided the work of WMM into three buckets:

1. Philanthropic education and leadership development programming to support learning and deepen connection for women donors;

2. Working to amplify these leaders on the frontlines of gender equality, with the goal of strengthen the connection between WMM members and changemakers on the ground;

3. Catalyzing increased resources for women and girls and being advocates for greater funding.

“That’s why this report is so critically important,” said Haacke Byrd, noting that WMM is in the first year of five year strategic plan, and that the research from WPI, particularly the establishment of the 1.6% as the current percentage of funding for women and girls, has helped galvanize new funding within the WMM community. “The research has been so valuable to us as a community.”

“To date, we have been able to support 95 million in support, said Haacke Byrd, regarding the $100 million goal for the Give Bold, Get Equal Campaign. “We’re just going to blow past this number,” she added.

Deborah Singer of Girls Who Code discusses how they use WPI research like the WGI to help inform their donors. (Image Credit: WPI)

Deborah Singer of Girls Who Code: Solve a Problem for Society to Build Funding Base

Deborah Singer of Girls Who Code discussed how using WPI’s research helps their organization to increase funding. ” Today, said Singer, Girls Who Code is “reaching 300,000 girls across the country,” she said, by leveraging partnerships with schools, libraries, and other community-based organizations. Alumnae of Girls Who Code are 15 times more likely than the national average to major in computer science.

Singer described how Girls Who Code has raised over $100 million since 2012, much of it from corporations. She said the effectiveness of this fundraising revolves around the fact that Girls Who Code solves a problem for business by creating a pipeline of women coders, engineers, and tech specialists. “They want access to our pipeline of diverse engineers,” she said, “and they also want opportunities for engagement for their employees.” As a result, Girls Who Code is able to satisfy several resource issues for business with their nonprofit work.

Desai Foundation ED: WPI Resource Valuable to Nonprofit’s Work

Megha Desai of the Desai Foundation discussed how her program uses date from WPI to inform its mission and fundraising. (Image credit: WPI)

Megha Desai, Executive Director of the Desai Foundation, spoke next. She described the mandate of her organization: to empower women and children with health and livelihood programming. Their Flagship program, said Desai, is their menstrual hygiene work which attacks stigma, access, and health issues related to menstruation. Started as a family foundation, Desai Foundation converted to public nonprofit in order to be able to expand their work and partner with more people on the ground in the social sector.

Desai described how the organization serves a population of 3 million people, and how those participating in the menstrual hygiene program produce produce over 2.1 million sanitary pads a year. “We’re constantly iterating and evolving our programs,” said Desai, adding that “almost all of our funding comes from individuals and small corporate donors.”

“Because of our unique design, every dollar that comes in is matched 100% by another fund,” said Desai, so the original endowment effectively works as a matching fund for all new monies.

“Data and resources like WPI are really invaluable to us, so thank you,” said Desai.

Singer: Women’s Causes Have a Messaging Problem

Deborah Singer expressed frustration for the way that funding for women and girls continues to be seen as a niche issue.

“Our causes have a messaging problem. They’re seen as a niche issue for a minority interest group when, in fact, they should be mainstream.”

“We have not yet cracked how we position issues as causes that matter to everyone,” said Singer.

Singer noted that women’s causes do appear to be taking a larger percentage of the overall share of voice in media, noting high profile articles in Rolling Stone, the fact that period poverty is “on the map” and the way in which “Hollywood is taking note” of gender equality issues.

“Maybe the share of voice is up, but the funding is not,” said Singer.

Haacke Byrd: We Have a Communication Hurdle We Need to Get Past

Sarah Haacke Byrd acknowledged as well that messaging is still a struggle for women and girls’ causes. “We do have a bit of a narrative issue, and a communication hurdle we need to get past,” she said.

But she emphasized that there may be a “hidden trend line” in the way that gender equality movements are beginning to shift and become more aligned with environmental movements and movements to end racial and social injustice.

When asked about the most effective strategy or insight she could offer on funding women and girls Haacke Byrd responded, “What is really different about women in philanthropy is the community aspect to it. We are effective at curating a community that is supportive and safe, with trust built into it, where women can tackle issues related to wealth and explore leadership, learn best practices and collaborate together.”

With regard to the recent announcements of $4.2 billion more in funding from MacKenzie Scott, Haacke Byrd said, “I’d like to celebrate a chorus of MacKenzies who are making these incredibly bold commitments and are doing it in a feminist way. Giving funds to those close to the issues they are tackling. That’s different. That’s where we want to see philanthropy move.”

How COVID is Impacting Women Givers

Megha Desai of the Desai Foundation discussed how COVID realigned the strategy for their organization. As a result of COVID, they began their Masks of Hope Program, employing women in India to sew masks to prevent the spread of COVID. She recognized the ingenuity of her organization’s team on the ground for managing the launch of this program so well.

Of the women doing the work making the masks, Desai said, “They feel really great. They have cultivated so much dignity for themselves because they get to be part of this bigger fight.”

Singer: Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Makes Largest Donation Ever Received By Girls Who Code

Singer discussed the great news that this past year they received their “largest single year donation” from Jack Dorsey of Twitter, who gave $2 million to the organization. The grant money is being provided, said Singer, with “no restrictions” and “no reporting required.” She credits this kind of gift to the high credibility of Girls Who Code, and to Dorsey’s belief in “the power of girls’ education.”

Where Feminist Givers Find Hope

“The people we serve inspire me,” said Megha Desai. “Every Friday we have a field worker do a facetime chat with one of our grant recipients.”

“I’m also inspired by our team,” she said, and by the donors who support their work. “I felt a shift in the past two years of people not just writing a check but leaning into that check. What gives me hope is that people are going to give more actively and I’m here for that.”

“I spend a lot of time talking to teen girls. They give me hope,” said Deborah Singer of Girls Who Code. “They take diversity and inclusion for granted. They won’t see black girl causes as niche issues but as fundamental to who they are. They are going to demand something different from employers. I think we’re already seeing that.”

“I get inspired because feels this is a tipping point,” said Sarah Haacke Byrd. She added that she also gets inspiration from the country’s new leadership. “Having a first woman Vice President gives me a ton of hope.”

She added that the “the authority, the commitment, the smarts, the grit,” of the feminist givers she works with “gets me up in the morning.”

“We have the leaders now to take us across the finish line,” she said. “And we have the enormous transfer of wealth to women.”

Watch the full webinar on Youtube.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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