At the Boardroom Table, Philanthropic Women Matter

By Missoula PowerHouse, Sarah Korn

Most women don’t think of ourselves as philanthropists. For me, it always reminded me of the “Society” section in the back of the newspaper growing up–socialites in formal gowns attending galas for a seemingly generic nonprofit (every week, every gala seemed void of mission but entirely of celebrity). Philanthropy seemed flashy and expensive, and completely separate from my world.

Flash forward a few years–women are starting businesses and leaping into leadership at significant rates, despite the gender pay gap holding steady. With women achieving wealth and power like never before, there’s more money available to fund important projects and organizations. But when I think about the wealthy (and I’m sure I’m not alone), I think about older, white males sitting around the conference table making important, society-shaping decisions about what is worth funding. Cash is king, and what has money will have power. Shouldn’t women be at that table, too?

It’s not that women aren’t charitable, but how we view charitable women matters. Women tend to be defaulted as caretakers for the world’s poor and disadvantaged–think Princess Diana and Mother Teresa. Women are expected to be generous and humanitarian. However, when it comes to the actual cash, we tend to think of the more public male philanthropists sitting at the table, such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett.

Even though often their charitable giving is from a family foundation, the actual weight of their success and subsequent generosity tends to be granted to the man. In 2013, The New Republic spoke with political mega-donors Steve and Amber Mostyn, who co-founded the Mostyn Moreno Foundation–and learned that Amber rarely gets called for interviews, and all of the stories in the couple’s donor profiles leaned heavily on Steve.

Of course, there are many successful female philanthropists (Oprah, Patricia Harris, to name a few), and women make an overwhelming amount of the spending decisions for their household, including altruistic gifts. I have no doubt the Gates household is much different, with Melinda taking a greater role in steering the direction of funds in recent years, establishing a strategy to specifically fund gender equality projects. Even in the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, both husband and wife seem to take an equal role in deciding where the money goes. But much of the success of the foundation rides off of the husband’s wealth and social status–what would it look like if women were at the forefront of charitable giving?

One thing I’ve been fascinated by are the women’s giving circles that have been popping up in recent years–especially Women Who Wine in Bozeman and the Flathead, and 100 Strong in Billings. The premise of the groups is simple: each member contributes an agreed on amount a couple times a year to a pooled fund, and meets regularly to grant the funds to local organizations and community projects that apply, guidelines and giving requirements varying by community. Many of them have giving requirements that are accessible to a wide range of people, not just the super wealthy. These women-centric spaces hold significant philanthropic power in their communities, and I’m thrilled to see the growth and press that they have been getting, and hope to see them in every Montana county in the coming years.

When we talk about women taking control of their own financial futures, I hope we include charitable giving at any level in the conversation. Women aren’t just caretakers for the world’s problems, we’re funding real projects that make significant impacts. This is also why I choose to support the Women’s Foundation of Montana and will do so during Missoula Gives on May 3rd-4th, because I believe strongly in women supporting projects that ensure economic independence for Montana women and girls, so that their generosity can continue to change the world.

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