The Principles of Successful Women’s Philanthropy

Women's Philanthropy Principals

The New York Times has called it: Women are changing the philanthropy game. They have always been givers, but now women’s influence as philanthropists is being given its rightful place in the national discourse. Thanks to extensive research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and the growing volume of examples of impactful women’s philanthropy, fundraisers no longer ask IF women give differently; they are now interested in learning HOW to adapt and are sharing better practices across institutions.

We’ve come a long way since I first started writing the book Gender Matters to expand awareness that women approach philanthropy differently and provide a roadmap to capitalize on this untapped resource. As I consider how to accelerate change over the next few years, I’ve been watching closely the growing number of institutions focused on women’s philanthropy and the speed with which their goals are reached. What factors universally contribute to seeing more women in leadership, in the donor pipeline, and making significant gifts?

While it is true that each institution starts with its own unique approach, principles are emerging to describe why many different women’s philanthropy models are now all achieving their goals so quickly. Principles are not tactical actions. They are fundamental tenets that serve as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior. The six key principles below are what I have observed to hold true across all successful models:

Six Key Principles of Successful Women’s Philanthropy

1. Women donors present a different fundraising paradigm that requires a pause before a reset.

Although there’s an urge to jump in and try new tactics, organizations are more effective when they pause first to learn about how women approach their philanthropy. Reviewing industry research and your own donor data can reveal why your current practices may not resonate with donors, as well as many opportunities you may be missing.

2. Women’s input is key to your success.

Women and other historically underrepresented donors control billions of potential philanthropic dollars. They may approach their philanthropy very differently than the prototypical donor. But if you never ask them about their motivations, preferences, and goals, you will continue to mistakenly assume they do not give big or give at all. The organizations that proactively solicit then listen to their input find that women will share alternative strategies that can accelerate fundraising.

3. Women bring more than money.

Women bring their talents, time, networks and testimony, as well as finances, to the causes they care about. Women donors, volunteers, and leaders can provide a tremendous lift to achieve critical goals if engaged in ways that acknowledge their full definition of philanthropy.

4. Leadership involvement is pivotal.

Shifting an entire fundraising paradigm is not accomplished with a few quick tweaks. Leadership’s involvement is critical for new initiatives to have the necessary support to see it through. Organizational leaders control the vision, the strategic priorities, and the ability to move resources that allow real transformation and big outcomes in these kinds of fundraising efforts. The first question I ask my clients is whether their leadership is involved; it fundamentally alters the path and scope of success.

5. Starting reveals the path forward.

Each institution has their own strategic goals tied to their growth and aspirations for a particular time frame. Some have begun with a women’s philanthropy strategy for their annual fund, others for a special project or campaign. You choose a first step. The success of your first women’s philanthropy focus will open up the evolution to other areas where women’s support can help your mission flourish.

6. The work is evolutionary and profound.

This is not a “program” with a singular end game. Your first well laid-out women’s philanthropy strategy will indeed grow your prospect pipeline and financial support for your organization’s mission; just ask the more than 40 organizations that I convene regularly who have launched one. However, across time you will integrate these better practices across your team and create significant cultural change where all donors are met as they prefer, not just a few. The organizations that are succeeding on this front have many more diverse partners, and funding, to achieve the impact they seek to have on the world.

Today’s women’s philanthropy programs are embracing these principles and using them to guide their strategies. I believe that if current and future institutional models continue to adhere to these principles, we will witness in the next five years significant acceleration in the visibility, numbers, and transformational impact of women philanthropists for our institutions.

I’ll be reviewing these principles in greater detail in future articles and will share stories of where these principles are working well. If you are in a hurry to learn, reach out to me at kathleen@kathleenloehr.com.

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