WPI Webinar: Women’s Political Giving Will Surge in 2024

On January 30, 2024, the Womens’ Philanthropy Institute (WPI) of Indiana University hosted a webinar to look into a crystal ball and discuss what members of the giving community believe is coming our way in the coming year.

Jeannie Sager of WPI kicked off the conversation with a thorough review of relevant topics. (Image Credit: WPI)

The moderator was Jeannie Sager, Executive Director of WPI. Panelists included 

  • Elizabeth Barajas Romắn, President and CEO of the Women’s Funding Network (WFN);
  • Latanya Mapp Frett, President and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA); and 
  • Kiersten Marek, Founder and CEO of Philanthropy Women (PW)

To start, Jeannie Sager established five key trends as identified by research of WPI:

  1. Politics, Democracy, and the Election Cycle. Of course 2024 is a presidential election year in the US and many of the issues have major implications for women, reproductive rights perhaps being at the forefront. In addition, however, the ongoing conflicts in the Ukraine and Israel/Gaza will also affect domestic politics;
  2. Women Donors and Recipients in Conflict Zones. As is usually the situation, women and girls are disproportionately affected by war and armed conflict. Hunger, poverty, and physical displacement from home environments are among the catastrophic effects created. These conflicts come at a time when women are often “leading the charge” in donating and lobbying on these issues.
  3. Climate Change and the Environment. The results of climate degradation are already becoming all-too familiar. Once again, women and girls are disproportionately affected by these changes, and once again, the major stressors are hunger, poverty, and physical displacement from home environments.
  4. Feminist Philanthropy and Gender Equity. The need for greater empowerment of women in the decision-making process is ongoing. Women need a more emphatic voice in the creation of Sustainable Development Goals, especially now in the wake of recent rulings by the US Supreme Court.
  5. The Rise of Younger Women Donors (and Megadonors). We are in the midst of one of the greatest transfers of wealth in history. Baby Boomers accumulated an unprecedented amount of wealth in their lives, and now that they are aging that wealth will be passed on. The daughters and granddaughters of the Boomers stand to inherit the “majority of this wealth”. And when women have more, they give more. Also millions of Gen Z women are moving into positions of leadership in philanthropy.

Going around the metaphorical table, each of the three panelists added their own thoughts. Kiersten Marek of PW stressed the election cycle, and how that will affect giving in general. She noted an existing trend with some women givers that their giving has gradually been shifting away from standard philanthropic giving and more into political activism. This is only apt to increase in an election year. 

Latanya Mapp Frett stressed the importance of elections worldwide this year. (Image credit: WPI)

Latanya Mapp Frett emphasized that there are more than 70 elections world-wide slated for this year, but we need to pay attention not to the big ones like the US Presidential election, but the small and local ones like school boards. She also said that, in a similar vein, attention must be directed not just to the megadonors, but to the local networks that understand the needs of the local communities. We should, she added, take this opportunity to get out and knock on doors to spread the word about issues. 

Elizabeth Barajas Romắn pointed out that there has been a significant build-up of the feminist philanthropy infrastructure combined with the increase in women givers may indicate that feminist giving may be an idea whose time has come. It’s not about tech issues, like AI, but about relationships between funders and activists. This idea of relationship remained a theme as both Elizabeth and Latanya moved into the body of their observations. Elizabeth stressed that it was no longer an issue of gender of the giver but a focus on a gender lens in the allocation of funds. What matters is increasing the amount of dollars dedicated to women’s issues. It needs to increase from the current 2%, up to 20%, or even 50% or 51%.

Latanya followed up with a comment that we have entered a period where it’s no longer unusual for donors, especially younger ones, to rely on the local activists for advice and guidance on an issue. After all, the women doing the work are the ones that possess the most effective knowledge of the situation. This helps create relationships between resource partners and activists. Latanya also stressed that the time has come for NGOs to pay themselves to ensure that their work is sustainable, that we need to look at the long-term, by undertaking sustainable work rather than to chase fads. From this writer’s personal experience, chasing fads is a trap that the private business sector falls into on a regular basis, wasting extraordinary amounts of time, money, and employee good-will, so Latanya’s advice is sound. 

Kiersten Marek discussed the lack of philanthropic media that pays attention to gender lens giving. (Image credit: WPI)

Kiersten changed the direction of the discussion with pointed insight on a factor too-often overlooked. She explained how one of the biggest problems facing feminist giving is the lack of an effective media voice. The sector is small, coming in at something like 2% of philanthropic dollars. Recent research done by PW has noted that this has been a chronic problem, dating back at least a decade and probably much longer. It will be very difficult to expand this as Elizabeth rightly urges, unless we reach out to and capture a wider audience. Not all feminists are women, and this needs to be acknowledged and addressed. Part of the solution, she suggests, is that a larger voice requires funding. The sad fact of the matter is there is a reluctance to allocate dollars to media which, at first glance, may seem like a diversion of dollars, but the greater awareness generated is absolutely crucial to growing the sector.

Elizabeth Barajas Romắn discussed the importance of women’s activism this election year. (Image credit: WPI)

Going back to Elizabeth, she returned to the need for political action. “Women’s bodies are in the crosshairs,”she stated. Women’s bodily autonomy and trans rights are being “dramatically impacted. To combat this, Elizabeth suggests that what is needed is …collectives you know, giving circles to come together [to] resource the organizations that they know personally… because… that’s the kind of information that a larger National Foundation wouldn’t know. We need every single level [of] the full infrastructure to be strong and moving forward…” This, in a nutshell, is what both Elizabeth and Latanya meant when they described the need for relationships. This is, Elizabeth said, also very helpful for political activism. 

It was Latanya who used the word “network”, but this is clearly what they have been describing. The onus, Latanya says, should not be on those needing money to find those giving the grants. Organizations like hers, RPA, should be the ones seeking out those on the ground, the doers. 

In final comments, Elizabeth expressed optimism. “The calvary is coming” is how she put it. The infrastructure, after all, is in place, we have seen women and women of color moving into positions of power over the last forty years. Latanya agreed that the people are in place, that diversity is becoming the norm. 

One last word from Kiersten, who agrees on the need for relationships, the need to find helpers outside the usual circle of people already involved in philanthropy. To this end, changes in vocabulary may be helpful. The terms philanthropy and feminism have, unfortunately, accumulated negative connotations. Philanthropy has implications of a top-down approach which may not be the optimal model as we move into the future. In the same way, and for the same reasons, gender equity can appeal to a broader segment of the populace as we evolve towards a place where gender may actually be “…less of an important variable in who you are in your identity…[W]e have non-binary people who now are present with us and and you know are offering us alternative visions of what life can be…” Finally, Kiersten reminds us that the helpers we seek may be people we already know. Don’t be afraid to ask.

As a closing note, there was a lot of talk about how activists and resource partners can find each other. The WPI website has a database of over 45,000 organizations dedicated to women and girls. Getting the word out has been one of the chief goals of Philanthropy Women throughout its existence. The biweekly news stories that you see here publicize who is doing what in the world of gender equity, and the site includes a funder’s database. A subscription is required. Finally, Kiersten’s book, Feminist Giving: Creating New Frontiers in Social Change tells the story of women’s giving, and provides an enormous number of organizational funders. The ebook version contains links to the different organizations. 


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