Surging Philanthropy for Women and Girls? Not So Much

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute has put out its second iteration of the Women & Girls Index, and the news is not bad, but it’s not super good either. Charitable giving to women’s and girls’ organizations in the U.S. increased from $6.3 billion in 2016 to $7.1 billion in 2017, but the overall percentage of giving remained the same — 1.6%.

women's giving
This graphic from WPI’s new report shows the level of giving for women and girls relative to other sectors of philanthropy. (Image Credit: WPI)

Sometimes I feel like that number — 1.6% — is going to haunt us all to our graves. It is such a glaring indicator of what is wrong with the world we live in. Ultimately, giving for women and girls remains token. Its actual number, $7.1 billion, is only a little more than half compared to the next smallest area of giving — environment and animals at $12 billion.

What does this say about how much we truly value women’s empowerment and women’s leadership? A little more than half as much as we value the improving the environment and protecting animals? About 28% as much as we value arts, culture, and humanities, which comes in as the third smallest area of giving at $18 billion?

“While women’s and girls’ organizations saw steady growth in philanthropic support from 2012 to 2017, contributions to these organizations continue to comprise a relatively small share of overall charitable giving,” said Debra Mesch, lead author of the report and professor of philanthropic studies at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

A relatively small amount. An amount so small that, even doubling it, it still comes out to a tiny number — 3.2. Not until you triple that number do you start to get into the area of serious significance at 4.8% — an amount that could drive critical mass toward gender equality policies and social values.

{Sigh} The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Toward Gender Justice?

If we were truly bending toward gender justice, it seems like that number, 1.6, would have to start getting bigger in the near future. Otherwise, we’re not really bending. We’re just plugging along in a not-very-gender-just world, maintaining the status quo.

Accelerated Funding in Reproductive Justice and Gender Based Violence Prevention

Philanthropic support for reproductive rights organizations increased 85.2% from 2012 to 2017, and 33.7% in 2017 alone, according to the report. Part of that may have been “rage giving” after Trump was elected, and rightful concern about how the next four years would chip away at repro rights for women. Funding for gender-based violence prevention also rose from 2016 to 2017, according to WPI’s research.

Public Database of Women & Girls Index Organizations

In order to do this research, WPI has catalogued data on approximately 47,000 organizations in the U.S. dedicated to women and girls, which make up 3.4% of all charitable organizations. The full catalogue of Women & Girls Index organizations is publicly available on the WPI website. Please visit this link to receive an emailed copy of the names and Employee Identification Numbers (EINs) of all 47k organizations included in the Index. 

Question that Goes Beyond the Scope of This Research

Reading over this research, the question struck me: Why do we accept waiting three years to get data on giving like this, when we could have it in real time, or at least within a six months after tax data is submitted to the government. In order to get out of the 1.6% conundrum, women funders and researchers really need to know more about what is going on for giving for women and girls now, or at least within the past 24 months. Going back three to four years just feels like doing a very late autopsy on a social crisis that needs resolving now, not five years from now when there is more stale longitudinal data.

Link to full report here.

Related:

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

WPI Study: Rage Giving is Driven by Progressive Women Donors

Reproductive Rights and Women’s Philanthropy: Aligning Our Resources

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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