The 12 Most Promising Trends in Women’s Philanthropy

Editor’s Note: This post on feminist giving trends was originally published on August 3, 2020.

Since I launched Philanthropy Women in 2017, and even before then, I have been paying close attention to the feminist giving trends, as well as the big plays and strategy shifts, happening in feminist giving. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to enumerate some of those gender equality giving trends and other happenings, and flesh out what they mean both now and for the future of philanthropy.

feminist giving
State-based women’s funds such are getting more powerful as large foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation begin to recognize the value of their existing infrastructure to leverage social change. (Image credit: Women’s Foundation California)

1. Women Funders Are Getting More Ambitious With Their Strategies

I see women funders getting more ambitious with their strategies in many different ways, both in terms of the subjects they will fund as well as the approaches they are willing to try. This means they are doing bolder things with their money, which often translates into helping our culture to become more inclusive and knowledgeable about difference. For example, Mona Sinha, Chair of the Women Moving Millions Board, has done some amazing work lately supporting the documentary Disclosure. This film does groundbreaking work in terms of exploring the growing world of gender transition, helping this community to be seen and valued by society. Being unafraid to cross the barrier and fund the LGBTQ community is just one of the many bold strategies that more feminist funders are adopting more frequently.

2. Big Funders Are Making Gender Equality a Priority

MacKenzie Bezos gets the accolades on this one, since now that she is out to distribute her largesse, she has chosen many women’s organizations and gender equality organizations to support. I’m not sure that gender equality is in her top three now, but it seems likely it could rise to that position in the next few years.

2020 also marks the year that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced their first Gender Equality President, another milestone in establishing this funding area as a priority. Other donors who are also giving gender equality more priority: Beyonce, Serena Williams, Emma Watson, Charlize Theron, and Michelle Obama, to name just a few.

3. Women Donors Are Getting More Intersectional

Intersectionalism — it’s everywhere. Well, not exactly, but the word is coming up in more and more contexts, and oftentimes the people bringing it up are feminist givers. Looking for a recent example? Check out our webinar with donor Suzanne Lerner, as she discusses her growing intersectional approach. Liveblog – What Donors Can Do About Lack of Funding for Women and Girls of Color

4. Feminist Givers are Getting More Environmental

Organizations like Rachel’s Network, Global Greengrants, and The Hive Fund are getting the ecofeminist agenda on the public policy docket, and helping philanthropy at large recognize how to fund environmental work in a way that also promotes gender equality.

5. Gender Equality Donors are Getting More Political

One woman donor, who ran a network for women donors for over a decade, told me that she is moving much further into political work. This seems to be a trend overall, with Melinda Gates funding major efforts to get women more political traction, and organizations like Women’s Funding Network discussing political strategizing for women across the country. Organizations like Women Donors Network have funded major research projects to identify the problem of women’s under-representation in politics, helping to guide us toward solutions.

6. Feminist Giving is Doing More to Support Women Entrepreneurs

There’s lots of news in this arena, such as Stacy’s Rise recently announcing $10 K grants for Female Founders and Barefoot Wines announced it will be giving $1 K grants to Black Women in beauty biz. These are just small examples of a larger trend across corporations and donors speaking directly to women entrepreneurs as important constituents, and providing them support.

7. Women Donors Are Getting More Tech Savvy

WPI has this subject covered and we did some liveblogging of the news. Bottom line: women givers are good with the online giving and are done wasting time on outdated systems. So make your systems women-giver friendly, tech world!

8. State-Based Women’s Funds Are Getting More Powerful

Some of the most effective funding strategies happening right now come out of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the New York Women’s Foundation, the Women’s Foundation California, and many other state and regional women’s funds and foundations across the country. These hubs fund some of the most innovative, inclusive, and systems-focused philanthropy out there. Under the umbrella of the Women’s Funding Network, these organizations have broken new ground in terms of inclusiveness, forming coalitions like Young Women’s Initiative, a nationwide network of women’s funds addressing the needs of young women and girls of color.

The Women’s Funding Network is also embarking on a new multi-state strategy to address poverty, funded by the Gates Foundation, by engaging women in education and providing support for their economic mobility. This seems like it could be a highly effective way to leverage the existing network of women’s funds across the country in order to support women’s growing power in the economy, and also push for legislative change that will make women’s lives more stable and secure.

9. Corporations are Increasing Gender Equality and Intersectional Strategies

Funders that are aware of intersectionality, the combination of race, class, gender and other forms of discrimination that particularly impact women of color, are light-years ahead of the rest. Much work needs to be done, even in the women’s funding community, to challenge harmful cultural norms all around us.

But it is starting to happen. Starbucks Foundation has made increasing investments in women and girls of color globally. Caress, part of Unilever, recently gave $1 million in founding donation for the IFundWomen of Color platform. All around, corporations seem to have finally noticed that women, and particularly women of color, exist.

10. Men Are Finally Getting on Board

It is taking forever, but the men are finally starting to show up for gender equality. First we had Peter Buffett, who bravely cleared the path for other men in philanthropy to become feminist givers. Now we have signs of new strength for this work as organizations like A Call to Men receive big funding from MacKenzie Bezos and bring on super intersectionally-minded leaders like Suzanne Lerner for their boards. At the same time, places like Promundo are building a worldwide movement of men who agree that it’s time to emphasize women’s leadership and women’s ways of knowing in order to get our globe on a better path.

11. Feminist Givers are Beginning to Influence Medicine More

In Canada, $6.7 million was recently dedicated to gender lens research and treatment for women’s mental health. Melinda Gates brings up the fact that PPE is still not made to fit women’s faces and calls attention to the fact that any vaccine for COVID needs to be vetted fully with a gender lens, since women make up 70% of health care workers, and will likely be the first receivers of vaccines. These kinds of events add up to feminist givers having a bigger influence on medicine.

Another example of new giving that is addressing health care for women: The Slaight Family Foundation dedicated $15 million to women and girls globally, particularly focused on health care for women and girls. As a subheading to this category, girls of color are being identified as the global group needing increasing focus, to ensure maximum health care and education early in life for this population. Organizations like Plan International USA are doing more to raise the alarm on the needs of this group.

Also in an interesting twist in this section of advancement, the new Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Jeannie Sager, hails from a medical background.

12. Feminist Giving is Getting More Systems-Focused

More women givers are recognizing the systems issues, the issues related to child care, health care, education, and housing, that need to be addressed if we are to move toward gender equality. As a sidebar under this trend, women continue to be some of the best networkers out there, and as a result, their systems-focused work benefits from their already-established networks. That’s why feminist givers participate in networks such as Rachel’s Network, Women Moving Millions, Women’s Funding Network and the Women Donors Network. These networks serve as essential strategy hubs and provide the time and space for relationship-building in the gender equality giving sector. I believe the thought leadership that comes from these funding networks contributes significantly to some of the biggest social movements of our time, including #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #BlackLivesMatter. 

Final Thoughts from a Feminist Giving Fanatic

Don’t get me wrong: there are also a lot of negative trends influencing feminist giving right now, including the impacts COVID will no doubt have on this funding sphere. But at the same time, some people and organizations are moving in a very positive direction. We want to acknowledge that and do what we can to enhance that work.


Liveblog: Funding to End Violence Against Women of Color

Barefoot Gives $1 K Grants to Black Women in Beauty Biz

WFN to Lead Gates-Funded Anti-Poverty Work Via Women’s Funds

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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