October 9, 2014; Stanford Social Innovation Review

For too many decades, programs serving women and girls stemmed from programs serving men. In response, women’s funds were created to raise, advocate, and focus funds on programs geared toward the unique needs of women and girls. Although these funds continue to grow, many leaders are advocating for more dynamic growth and others continue to question their need.

Women Moving Millions (WMM) issued a call to action in September to women of means across the country. The organization advocated for an increase in giving and a concentrated focus on organizations serving women and girls.

The call to action was accompanied by a new study entitled All In for Her, documenting the growing amount of wealth wholly or partially controlled by women. According to the study, women in the U.S. have the capacity to give an estimated $230 billion a year. Jacqueline Zehner, the chair of WMM, described the sum as “approximately equal to all charitable giving from individuals and roughly 3.3 times the overall charitable giving by foundations and corporations in the U.S. last year.” Much of this capacity stems from an intergenerational transfer of wealth. According to the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, women will inherit 70 percent of $41 trillion, or $28.7 trillion, over the next 35 to 40 years.

This large transfer of wealth has the potential to increase philanthropic activities. According to a July 2009 Barclay’s Wealth study titled Tomorrow’s Philanthropist, women give, at 3.5 percent, an average of 1.7 percent more of their wealth to charity than men.

WMM advocates not only for an increase in giving, but giving that is transformative. Currently, only ten percent of donations are chosen using a “gender lens.” The organization defines giving with a gender lens as donors thoroughly “examin[ing] how culturally entrenched gender norms affect women and men differently, and then tak[ing] these distinctions into account when identifying both the problems and the solutions.” Women can change this deficiency by giving larger general operating gifts, combining money with volunteer engagement, and merging their efforts with other donors who share this passion. In addition to giving using a gender lens, thoughtful donors provide capital directly to women and girls in need.

The first women’s funds were created in the 1980s. Their donors have led the way by building and expanding foundations with missions of supporting organizations serving and creating programs designed for women and girls. Currently, there are over 160 women’s funds and they are growing at a faster rate than the greater philanthropic community. A report developed by the Foundation Center and Women’s Funding Network documented 24 percent growth in giving by women’s funds between 2004-2006 ($101 million in 2006, up from $72 million in 2004) while overall foundation giving increased by 14.8 percent. The leaders of WMM are advocating for transformational social change building on the dynamic growth of the last thirty years.—Gayle Nelson