(WOMENSENEWS)--Today, about 51 percent of the wealth in our nation is held in the name of a woman. Clearly women have vastly more money, and more access to money, than we had 25 years ago.
Women have moved up corporate ladders or succeeded in starting our own businesses. Women are running companies such as eBay and Hewlett-Packard. We are holding top positions ingovernment. And our economic power has grown as well.
But when it comes to understanding and using philanthropy as a strategic tool for community change, women have only begun to tap very lightly on the glass ceiling.
The result is one of the most pernicious gender gaps in our culture. While only about 7 percent of every philanthropic dollar goes to women and girls, women and children constitute about 70 percent of the poor in our nation.
Men's Philanthropy Has Shaped Society
For a very long time, men have used philanthropy to translate their personal values into community values. They have succeeded in raising the dollars and impacting the communities that they perceive as making a difference to their business and to their own personal visions. Just think of Ted Turner's hundred-million-dollar pledge to the United Nations. Or Andrew Carnegie's funding of medical schools across the country a century ago.
Few women, however, have begun transforming society in similar ways. Studies show that while becoming more generous in their check-writing, women haven't yet fully realized their potential to transform their communities.
We know that, given assets equivalent to men, women don't think of themselves as having an equal amount to give away. Their checks are not as big as men's and even major philanthropy by women is not as visible. They think of the Carnegies and Turners as philanthropists; not themselves.
Empowering Women Helps Communities
And yet those same women expressed the desire to make a difference, to give back and to partner with effective and efficient organizations.
Wisely, they realize that empowering other women and girls can enhance their communities. The World Bank and numerous others have clearly documented that when a woman is educated her family becomes educated, when a woman achieves economic security her community rises with her.
Over the past 20 years the women's funding movement has made substantial progress in helping women and girls assume a more central role in their communities.
Today over 100 women's and girls' foundations are thriving throughout the United States and abroad. Since 1985 these foundations have given over $200 million in grants and raised another $200 million for endowments and program development to increase the world of women and philanthropy. Clearly we have begun to make inroads into the ultimate expression of economic power, the realm of philanthropy.
Women's Foundations Are Backbone
Women's foundations have provided the backbone of support for such critical work as the women's anti-violence programs (shelters, rape-crisis centers, medical and court systems) and micro-financing for women and women's business development. They have supported advocacy programs for gender pay equity, women's access to credit and legislative changes to increase the economic security of women and their families. But there is much more work to do. Social change begins when the life of just one single person is transformed, but it only realizes its full potential when we open many windows of opportunity so that countless lives can be changed.
At this time of year, when many of us are counting our blessings and looking for opportunities to invest in a better future, women's foundations are an ideal choice.
These foundations have set themselves a goal of $450 million in assets by 2008. These foundations are dreaming big, thinking big and giving big. But we need partners. And, unlike the traditional philanthropic circles of old, we welcome the hundred-dollar check as well as the million-dollar gift. But the movement must and will grow, and in so doing, we will change the face of philanthropy.
Christine Grumm, executive director of the Women's Funding Network since 2000, has more than two decades of experience as a leader in effecting social change through civil society, and especially through women's philanthropy. Her time in the leadership of WFN has been marked by membership and asset growth despite the economic downturn.
For more information:
Women's Funding Network:
United Nations Population Fund--
34 Million Friends Campaign: