WPI’s Newest Research Shows a Rise in Funding For Employment

The question of how women’s funding is growing – or not growing – is the focus of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which produces its Women and Girls Index every year, to analyze the philanthropic giving for women and girls and see where it is going. One of the benefits of having this research is that it can quickly dispel any notions that gender equality has already been achieved and doesn’t need to be a priority for funders.

women's giving
(Image credit: WPI Research Brief, October 2022)

“It’s so important to have the data. Numbers don’t lie,” said Jeannie Infante Sager, Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. In a recent conversation with Philanthropy Women, Sager spoke in detail about the new data coming out about women and giving, and how it reveals important trends in philanthropy.

Indeed, the numbers tell a very exciting story: that the world is waking up to funding for women and girls, particularly as it relates to employment. Sager suggested this area of funding is likely to continue to rise faster than others.

“I think this has a lot to do with Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott and the creation of the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge,” said Sager. The Equality Can’t Wait Challenge launched in 2020. The research gave some urgency to this work by pointing out it will take 208 years to reach gender equality in the U.S. at the current rate of progress.

In our conversation, Sager also highlighted some other big differences for women in terms of philanthropic behavior.

“Women think about wealth differently,” she said. “The research suggests that, for women, the most satisfying aspect of having wealth is to give it away.”

Women are also very drawn to understanding all of the different ways they can be givers. Beyond the traditional time, treasure, and talent, women also understand and think intentionally about how to give to others through their ties – their connections to others, and their testimony – their ability to give voice to the issues they care about.

Women are also giving by using a gender lens strategy for their financial investments and in their consumer purchases. “They are considering the companies they purchase food from, and whether they’re women-owned or women-led,” she said, as just one example of how women lean into their giving power with money.

We discussed the difficulty that narratives about women’s giving have in making it into the mainstream media, and Sager agreed that the work is so often ignored, unless it is really bad or really good news.

“MacKenzie Scott has made a huge splash,” said Sager. “She continues to do big things that garner attention.” With MacKenzie Scott’s launch of her website, Yield Giving, Sager sees the emergence of a new hub for trust-based philanthropy, and the idea that giving must be centered on the voices and work of people from underserved communities. Scott’s approach, and others like her who embrace trust-based giving, are acknowledging philanthropy’s history of systemic inequities, aiming to address the power dynamics between funders and grantees, and emphasizing collaboration.

“There are a lot of narratives and stories in the $485 million in giving that happens every year in the United States, narratives that go beyond those of the ultra-high net worth.” Sager sees more women at all levels of society understanding that when they put money behind something, big things can happen.

We discussed the U.S. Women’s Soccer team and their fight for equal pay, a narrative that broke through to the mainstream. It was also one of the reasons for the increase in funding for women’s employment that showed up in WPI’s newest data.

“It takes a mainstream thing – sports – to finally get a victory for wage equity,” she said. “The disparity was just so stark. How do you celebrate these victories, and not pay them the same?” said Sager.

Sager suggested that the story of the women’s soccer team and their victory for wage equity was a prime example of the value of men as allies in the fight for gender equality. “There were fathers who were watching this,” she said. “And feeling the responsibility of standing up for the rights of women just like the women in their lives, perhaps daughters playing sports.”

“That doesn’t mean that the patriarchy isn’t strong,” cautioned Sager.

With only about 2% of philanthropic funding going to women and girls, we discussed the scarcity mindset that sometimes exists for grantees trying to keep their women’s organization afloat. I asked Sager if she could comment on the plight of grantees for women’s causes who lose their funding or have it redirected off of their project and onto another project for women and girls.

“We have to grow the pie,” she acknowledged.

An accelerated growth of the philanthropic pie for women and girls could become a trend of the future. Sager noted that women in the U.S. now control about $11 trillion in assets, an amount which is expected to grow to $30 trillion by 2030.

As the pie grows, Sager sees the potential for more giving for racial and social justice causes. She noted that many women donors appreciate the importance of lifting up the BIPOC communities and taking an intersectional approach that accounts for both race and gender. 

It’s clear that women’s generosity and the need to grow funding for women and girls is transforming the philanthropic landscape and shaping conversations about gender equity. To explore these topics further, WPI is hosting its 2023 Symposium: All In, All Rise. The two-day event will examine how women’s involvement in philanthropy strengthens communities, encourages greater strategic giving, and builds a more diverse network of engaged citizens. The event will be held March 28–29, 2023, in Chicago, Illinois. You can learn more and register online at: https://wpisymp.iupui.edu/index.html 


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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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