Helen LaKelly HuntFunding Serious Change(WOMENSENEWS)–Some years ago, while reading through the letters of 19th century suffrage leaders, I uncovered a sad but shocking fact: It was largely men who funded the suffrage movement.


I had been aware of women funding women the last 20 years and I began to see this as a new consciousness among female donors, a growing awareness that is provocative in its scope and impact.

My years of work in the area of women’s funds–nonprofit organizations in the United States in cities such as New York and Dallas, and increasingly around the world–has led me to witness that women are using their growing financial resources to change the world of, by, for and through women and girls.

These large-scale gifts are noteworthy and beg to be explored. What motivates these new female donors to devote large sums of money to women’s funds or to other causes that tap the talents of women and girls to fuel social change?

51 Percent

It is now widely reported that 51 percent of all assets in the United States are held in the names of women. And the shift of wealth into women’s hands will continue; in some cases from family sources, and in more and more cases from wealth of their own creation. What this trend portends for the future is a source of great hope and inspiration.

This past December Women’s eNews published the story of Carol J. Andreae, who had pledged $1 million to the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. She wrote from her heart about what it meant to give at that level for the first time and to be public about her gift. Carol’s voice touched many, including some who have the financial resources to support social change through women and girls by taking their philanthropy "to scale," that is, asking women of means to give to their philanthropic potential.

Carol’s journey is like my own and that of many others.

Growing up, I had been taught that men should manage my money. In fact, "money" was a taboo word for women. It is ironic that although I’m from a family of wealth, for many years I felt a disconnect between myself and my net worth. Assuming responsibility for my money, however, brought its own challenges.

Light-Bulb Moment

My light-bulb moment came upon a casual reading of an annual report from the San Francisco Women’s Fund. My imagination was set ablaze by the possibilities offered by women’s funds. My sister Swanee and I both saw these emerging institutions as powerful vehicles for social change as they invited cross-race, cross-class alliances. Not only did grassroots women receive needed financial support and thus became stronger, but donors were transformed as well.

Our work in philanthropy is made possible by wealth from our family’s oil business. In the 1980s, Swanee and I participated in the founding of several women’s funds around the country. And while our goal was to empower other women, in the end, it is we who truly have been transformed.

As part of the ensuing odyssey towards philanthropy and feminism, I discovered the exemplary work of women’s funds and helped start funds in New York and Dallas and founded The Sister Fund, a private foundation, as well.

Working Side by Side

Swanee worked with an extraordinary group of women to organize the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. These organizations are but a few members of the Women’s Funding Network, now with a worldwide membership of 116, granting $50 million annually to women on the front lines of social change. The ethic that infuses the work of this San Francisco-based network places female donors and women in the front lines of community social change side by side working together as partners.

In the coming months, you will read in a Women’s eNews series–called "Funding Serious Change"–the stories of 12 women who are funding social change through women and girls in a way that is having measurable impact on communities here and abroad.

One woman traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, on vacation and returned with a newfound passion for women and micro-lending. Another has organized women into a crafts guild in India, fueling women’s economic empowerment. Yet others, like Carol Andreae, have chosen women’s funds in their communities.

No matter who the woman or her chosen vehicle, I am convinced you will find these personal stories an inspiration for your own giving. To my mind, any gift, lovingly given to make the world better, is philanthropy. May we all, as women, live up to our philanthropic potential in giving to and through women and girls for the first time in history.

Helen LaKelly Hunt has been active within the women’s movement for over 20 years. She is founder of The Sister Fund, a private women’s fund dedicated to the social, political, economic and spiritual empowerment of women and girls and is the author of "Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance," published by Atria books in 2004.

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.



For more information:

"My Million Dollar Commitment: Serious Change":

The Sister Fund:

Faith and Feminism:

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