One of the most welcome developments in the evolution of philanthropy are the voices and leadership of women who continue to enter into the boardrooms of nonprofits and serve their communities as leading philanthropists in their own right. The reality is that in 2017, there have been a lot of discussions about women and their roles in our society and that pace will, and should, quicken in the coming year.
Many women aren’t satisfied to be second to any man (nor should they be, provided they want to lead). Society has to reckon with the power of women in all areas, including philanthropy where their impact is being felt at the leadership gift level. Today, we have more than a couple of women who are directing and making their voices and priorities understood as it relates to where they choose to give their money and that of their families.
In fact, if you’d like to see for yourself 50 of the most powerful in American philanthropy, you can read the article by David Callahan and Kiersten Marek noted at the end of this article, which they published in Inside Philanthropy. Some of these philanthropic thought leaders include:
- Connie Ballmer, Chair of Philanthropy, the Ballmer Group: Connie Ballmer and her husband, Steve, have a net worth of about $20 billion. Of the power couple, she has been the nonprofit leader. She co-founded Partners for Our Children, whose mission is to improve the effectiveness of the child welfare system in Washington State among the initiatives she is supporting philanthropically.
- Susan Buffett, Chair, the Sherwood Foundation, the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, and the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation: Susan Buffett is Warren Buffett’s daughter. Susan Buffett is one of the most influential women in all of philanthropy, although you might well not have heard of her, in the typical low-key Buffett style. Her foundation is the most prominent private funder of reproductive health in the world. The scale of the vast amounts of money she oversees philanthropically is nearly unprecedented.
- Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: One of the top power players in philanthropy for years has been Melinda Gates. In recent years, she’s been shifting her focus toward issues that relate to women, such as gender equality. She has raised her profile in the media granting interviews to discuss topics that are related to women and female empowerment. She and her husband, Bill, have more than $75 billion still to tap toward leaving a philanthropic legacy.
- Lyda Hill, Founder, the Lyda Hill Foundation: She signed The Giving Pledge, and she is a great supporter of funding for the medicine and science. Her focus is on breast cancer, but she’s also a supporter of marine protection and is a significant donor in the State of Texas.
What Women Mega-Donors Do for Philanthropy
The reality is that we must get more women into positions of power and leadership in every area of society, including philanthropic giving. Unfortunately, what Gloria Steinem’s said is accurate: “Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself.”
For too long, many of the intractable challenges that have existed in society is precisely because women have not shared the tables of power and leadership with their male counterparts. I know we have a long way to go, and women recognize that we (and they) have a long way to go to make everything in society and business, including philanthropic leadership) more equitable.
But, as the shift begins to gain traction and momentum and as more and more women take their rightful places in philanthropic leadership, we’re going to see changes.
- We’ll see more focus paid to issues that are specific to women (and their families). Some of these areas include women’s health, reproductive issues and economic and social justice matters.
- Most of the women I know are fantastic listeners and collaborators, and I think there will be new levels of collaboration and nuance with more women taking on leadership roles in philanthropy.
- As younger women see more mature and seasoned women leading in philanthropy, they will have the benefit of more role models. The reality is there have been few women to share their experiences and for other women to follow as models in their lives.
I often speak about how we live in amazing times with technology, but the reality is that it’s also a great time because I think 2017 has brought about a renewed awareness that women are leaders and women are demanding their rightful place in making sure we have a more equitable world, which also addresses their needs. I look forward to seeing what happens in the coming months and years ahead.