My husband and I just moved to a new home.  Crazy, eh, considering this chaotic time and worries about Covid-19?  With lots of planning and tons of support, we survived and in fact are thriving in our new home and community. Throughout the upheaval, I observed that I was acting as the quintessential woman philanthropist. I influenced or made our joint decisions – from contracts and scheduling to research and giving.

As noted in the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s recent report “COVID, Generosity and Gender”, the majority of households “did not change their level of engagement in different forms of philanthropy during the initial months of the crisis. There was a slight shift in where they gave: a larger percentage of households increased their giving to charitable organizations focused on basic needs and health (18.1%) and to individuals and businesses in their community (17.1%) compared with other forms of direct philanthropy.”

Combining the above research with the baseline research that women make or influence 75% of philanthropic decisions, I saw myself. In our home, I influenced giving directly to local individuals and small businesses during our move. For instance, I chose to give (vs. sell) items we no longer needed to vulnerable families in our community. This fits with our environmental values and our desire to share wealth, not hoard it. My choice required me to use my network and do the legwork to find the right group to partner with, and then schedule and coordinate the drop-off for each item. It took time, but hearing first-hand the gratitude and stories from beneficiaries made it so worthwhile. I learned how our desks will help children learn on-line, or our sleeper couch and kitchen items will accommodate an immigrant family.

There are hundreds of choices in a move and throughout it all, I led with our values of supporting those most vulnerable, such as getting healthy food we could eat on the run from local businesses who had lost revenue, or tipping generously the local contractors that were needed as I knew many of them were working two and three jobs to make ends meet. Now that we are on the other side of the move, I’ve shared with two families who are moving how we were able to help others.

The choices I made during the move are a snapshot of a broader definition of philanthropy that many women hold, including me. As we demystify and democratize philanthropy, we are not only being more inclusive in the “who” (a broader community of philanthropic actors) but also the “how” (giving is not just about donating money to established nonprofits). Women tend to engage philanthropically beyond giving money. We often want a deeper level of engagement. We do copious amounts of research and oversee the bulk of logistics for how we will engage with a cause. In my work with donors who identify as women, I know that we bring our full selves, and all our assets, forward to make the change we desire. I call this the rule of the 5 T’s, a definition of women’s philanthropy I heard first at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s 2017 Symposium.

The 5 T’s:
  • Time (Giving hours to serve on committees, boards, host events)
  • Talent (Sharing our skills and unique aptitudes to achieve a goal)
  • Treasure (Providing financial support)
  • Ties (Engaging our networks, and families, to support the causes we care about)
  • Testimony (Using our voice to share the mission with others and grow further support)

Our current fundraising practices often focus only on the treasure – what is their capacity to give? When we use a broader lens and take into calculation the wider range of resources they have to give, we will increase the number of supporters and leaders.

Cheryl Vargas, Director of Women’s Philanthropy at the University of San Francisco, recently shared:

It is a long game. The change we seek to have more diverse donors and leaders, to more truly reflect our very diverse student population, may take 5 or more years. But that does not preclude us from doing the inclusive work now to identify and invite in potential supporters we had not “seen” using our previous lens. If we rely only on the cut and dried rules of capacity, are we actually embracing our entire population? If we want people at the table, do we hold the same expectations for two people with different backgrounds? It is time to welcome those who have different levels of capacity and grow trust with new populations by connecting to all they have to offer, including time, ties, talent, and testimony.

The research of WPI, the snapshot of my move, and the insightful thoughts by Cheryl all demonstrate that women hold a broader definition of philanthropy. Think about your recent months – how are you part of this definition? What is your snapshot story of philanthropy that reflects the 5 T’s?

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