Priming the Pump: Exploring Ways to Grow Women’s Giving

Gender Matters by Kathleen E. Loehr explores how fundraisers can widen the aperture on their lens for approaching donors in order to maximize women’s giving.

Once you study women’s philanthropy for long enough, you begin to recognize that a confluence of events relating to women and giving are changing the philanthropy landscape in significant ways. One of the scholars who has studied women’s philanthropy and done this dot-connecting is Kathleen E. Loehr. In her new book, Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy, Loehr addresses the important question of how fundraisers and those committed to women’s giving can take specific actions that will increase women’s philanthropy – already an area of giving scheduled for a large uptick in the near future.

“It is time to rumble with our stories about women’s philanthropy,” says Loehr in the first chapter of the book, referencing a Brené Brown concept about rumbling with the truth to find the real story. In the introduction, Loehr describes a method for asking questions called Appreciative Inquiry, which “involves the art and practice of asking unconditionally positive questions” as a way to increase potential, by maximizing imagination and innovation in the responses being elicited. Loehr has written the book with an Appreciative Inquiry framework, which informs much of what Loehr recommends in terms of a strategy for approaching women donors.

In the book, Loehr combines the ideas of Appreciative Inquiry with an approach to leadership that works to align strengths in an organization, so that weaknesses are so insignificant that they are not even worth noticing. With these approaches in mind, Loehr starts with a call to look more closely at the data about the donors you are trying to reach. With specific examples guided by fundraising campaigns of colleges like Duke and William & Mary, Loehr demonstrates how a closer look at the data yielded a decision to shift fundraising approaches in order to collect the unharvested revenue of women’s giving.

But research is, of course, not enough. Loehr then provides guidance around how to create a high-quality action plan that will increase your donor engagement with women. In part two of the book, entitled Dream, Loehr invited readers into transformative reflection where they can “create a compelling mental picture of what is possible.”

By doing so, Loehr helps drive readers toward the next big step in carrying out their plan: declaring a vision. Through the process of declaring a vision, Loehr shows how intention is amplified, resulting in a stronger approach that will pull in donors, particularly women. Loehr also calls on fundraisers to build networking and collaboration into their vision, since research shows that women are more receptive to giving when they see themselves as joining with other women on a similar mission and participating in design of the project.

What Happens When We Ask Big Questions

Loehr is particularly adept at providing questions in the book that will “prime the pump,” to so speak.  She recommends questions that help prospective women donors articulate their own experiences with giving so that fundraisers can fully engage in appreciating those experiences and use them to create that compelling mental picture that will grow women’s support. Here is a small sample of some of those positive, open-ended questions you can pose to donors about their past giving experiences:

  • What has been your most exciting experience in giving? It does not need to be related to this organization.
  • Tell me the story. What happened?
  • What enabled this gift? What role did you play? What role did the organization play? What role did the staff person play in relationship to this experience?
  • What else made this experience possible?

Loehr suggests that asking these questions help women donors contextualize their giving experience and focus their attention on remembering what that experience was like for them. While such an approach might sound obvious, it is not in the old playbook of “best practices” for development and fundraising professionals.

Loehr also highlights significant research for guiding the ongoing donor-grantee relationship, including how much to communicate with women donors. “It is unlikely that women will feel they are getting too much communication,” writes Loehr, a research-based insight that is important to keep in mind when redesigning fundraising campaigns with women more in mind.

Gender Matters is an important new resource for those who see the potential for women’s giving to influence both philanthropy and civil society as a whole.  The guide will help readers notice their own assumptions and how they might be driving their behavior, so they can imagine and explore better ways to reach women as philanthropists.

Learn more about Gender Matters here.


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Kathy LeMay on Regenerating Courage as a Social Change Agent

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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