14 March 2011

Philanthropy: women step up

It’s been a tough few years for charities and nonprofits, as donors feel the pinch of hard times. Yumi Kuwana might offer them some interesting advice: Ask a woman.

Kuwana is the founding principal of investment advisory firm Cook Pine Capital LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut. As an advisor to high net worth families, she has observed a gradual change in the world of philanthropic giving, mirroring changes in the worlds of business and finance.

“There are many families now where women are entrepreneurs,” she points out. “Maybe they took the family business to the next level, did an IPO, and they may be sitting on a lot of cash.” And they are taking the lead in philanthropic giving.

Kuwana’s instincts are confirmed by recent research. The Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University came to a similar conclusion last year with its study entitled “Women Give 2010.” Among its findings: Households headed by women are more likely to give to charity than households headed by men, and in every income group except one, women give more than men. In the highest income group, female-headed households give at more than twice the rate of male-headed households.

And when they decide to give, their concerns are different.

“Traditionally, it’s been the men who directed the family’s charitable activities,” Kuwana says. Often that simply meant making gifts to an alma mater. Women’s giving may reflect a different philosophy, she feels: “Not just to give money but to reflect the family’s values.”

The Center for Philanthropy found that in five significant areas, women were significantly more likely to be donors to causes than men: international, community, religious, health care and youth or family. “Gender matters in philanthropy,” the report concluded.

At numerous conferences in recent years, women have gathered to define their philanthropic goals. Women’s funds have formed to direct their efforts to causes from women’s and girls’ education to breast cancer research to maternal and child health.

The Women’s Funding Network, formed in 1985, now has 157 member funds and $465 million in working assets. In 2006 the network launched a new effort, Women Moving Millions, that aimed to take women’s philanthropy to a new level. Inspired by a gift of $10 million from Texas philanthropists Swanee and Helen Hunt, the effort encourages gifts of $1 million or more to women’s causes. Prominent philanthropist Barbara Dobkin gave $3 million and Cecilia Boone, whose husband was a co-founder of the Container Store, gave $1 million.

Behind many of these efforts, particularly in the international sphere, is the notion that empowering women benefits whole communities, and that women may understand intimately how relatively small changes can dramatically improve the lives of their children and families.

Kuwana has seen this principle at work in her own back yard, where a local women’s community organization has increased its endowment 24-fold over the last decade.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising. In 2009 Forbes Magazine noted that women control more than half the private wealth in the US. They make 80% of all purchases. And women will inherit 70% of the intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years.

“Women,” says Kuwana, “are more likely to see their gifts as transmitting their values, as a way of empowering their passions.” If the trend continues, women’s passions will be responsible for much of the philanthropic giving in future years.

Category: Article