Not Enough! Giving for Women and Girls Totals $6.3 Billion in U.S.

A giant step for gender equality research and knowledge occurred today: the Women’s Philanthropy Institute released its first ever Women and Girls Index (WGI), which measures charitable giving to women and girls’ causes in the United States. This new index helps to establish a baseline for what this giving looks like today, and will help to tally the rate of increase or, (highly unlikely) decrease in the real dollar value of this philanthropy subsector.

Organizations focused on women and girls receive a small percentage of overall funding in charitable giving. Funding focused on women and girls represents $6.3 billion, approximately 1.6% of all charitable giving, which is estimated at $39.7 billion. (Image Credit: WPI: Women and Girls Index Report)

These statistics raise a critically important question: American philanthropy talks a good game about wanting more gender equality in our culture, but what are they actually doing about it?

“The WGI provides empirical data to help nonprofits, donors and funders address the gap between societal conversations and actual donations,” said Debra Mesch, the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

As to my sentiments in the title of this post, “Not Enough!” I wonder if Melinda Gates had a similar thought when she read about the WGI. Was that part of what prompted her to donate an additional $1 billion in funding to U.S. causes for gender equality over the next ten years?

Listed above are some of the largest organizations focused on women and girls in the “Mutual, Public and Societal Benefit” category. (Image Credit: WPI: Women and Girls Index Report)

Using the new index, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that nonprofits focused on women and girls comprise a relatively small portion of total charitable organizations, only 3.3%, and those 3.3% receive a collective total of $6.3 billion. This $6.3 billion amounts to only 1.6% of overall charitable giving from individuals, foundations, and corporations in 2016. The report emphasizes: “These findings suggest that charitable giving may not reflect the growing public awareness and media attention of women’s and girls’ issues.”

Some of the largest organizations focused on women and girls in the “Environment and Animals” category are listed above. (Image Credit: WPI: Women and Girls Index Report)

Interpretation and Discussion of Data

It’s best to read the discussion section of the paper yourself since it is extensive and contains many important insights.

From my perspective, this study confirms what we already knew: philanthropy for women and girls is still a relatively small percentage of overall giving. Since these numbers are from 2016 charitable giving, it’s unclear if funding for women has been growing since 2016, and at what rate. Some parts of giving, such as donations from Donor Advised Fund accounts, are showing a higher rate of giving toward women and girls’ causes, so there is clearly movement in new directions for this funding.

Regardless of whether funding for women and girls is growing or just trying to hold its ground in a hostile political environment, $6.3 billion in activity over 45,000 organizations across the American landscape is quite significant. That’s a lot of activity that is chipping away at the patriarchy, and feeding a culture that is hungry to consider what the world can look like with less gender polarization and inequality. It’s activity that we will be watching closely at Philanthropy Women.

In reading this report, I also thought about the potential value of work that interrelates religion and gender equality. If you look at the chart, religious giving overall is the highest amount of charitable giving for Americans, comprising $123.8 billion in activity. What if just a fraction of that work also focused on gender equality? One wonders whether, with more integration of gender equality agendas into religion, the largest area of giving, we might see a significant uptick in activity for gender equality movements. Helen LaKelly Hunt (one of our founding sponsors), when writing Faith and Feminism was also pointing humanity in this direction. Emily Nielsen Jones (another of our founding sponsors), who is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Imago Dei Fund, has also funded important work that seeks to reconcile and integrate gender issues with religious expression.

Thanks in part to these visionary thinkers and many others, there is more interest than ever in understanding philanthropy for women and girls. This understanding should help larger foundations recognize what they need to shoulder their responsibility for promoting gender equality internally and through their grantmaking. If even a fraction of larger foundations increased their gender equality work, it could improve the outlook for gender equality movements substantially.

Similar to gender lens investing in the finance markets, gender lens grantmaking appears to be on a trajectory of growth. The new WGI from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute is a giant step forward for tracking and interpreting this giving activity.

Here are the key findings from the study:

  1. More than 45,000 organizations dedicated to women and girls received $6.3 billion in charitable contributions in 2016. These organizations comprise a relatively small portion of total charitable organizations (3.3%) and overall charitable giving (1.6%).
  2. Women’s and girls’ organizations can be found in every nonprofit subsector. The greatest portion of these organizations appear in the human services subsector.
  3. WGI organizations that focus on general women’s health receive the largest amount of philanthropic support ($1.2 billion in 2016). Women’s and girls’ organizations addressing reproductive health, as well as family and gender-based violence, are also top recipients of philanthropic support.
  4. On average, WGI organizations are smaller than other charities, across a range of measures.
  5. Women’s and girls’ organizations received approximately 3.1% of donor-advised fund grant dollars between 2012 and 2015. This suggests a greater focus on giving to women and girls among those who use this giving vehicle than among donors overall.


Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

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

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