Some women in India are improving their living conditions by tying courtship to toilets. "Show us your loo before you woo, Indian men are told," read a headline in the Sunday Times.
Melinda French Gates believes the success of that marketing campaign was a critical lesson, an example of what nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola. So she presented it at a Technology, Entertainment and Design conference. Striking presentations are the norm for TED talks, and Gates made her case in front of a large screen full of headlines as she strolled across the stage.
"One state in Northern India has gone so far as to link toilets to courtship," Gates said. "And it works — look at these headlines. I'm not kidding. Women are refusing to marry men without toilets. No loo, no 'I do.' "
The laughter that followed was evidence that Gates had made her point: Innovative marketing campaigns "can change communities and whole nations." She might as well have been talking about the thousands of women who are transforming the philanthropic sector. Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Gates' husband, Bill Gates, are taking notice.
"Bill Gates says that he knows that without Melinda he wouldn't give as much and it wouldn't be as much fun," said Sondra Shaw-Hardy, who has been described as "the pioneer" in women's philanthropy.
In an interview with Fortune magazine, Buffett said Melinda Gates "sees the big picture," and that he would have been hesitant to invest in the Gates Foundation had she not been involved, Shaw-Hardy said.
Research shows women give differently than men and are more likely to give in groups and to organize on-the-ground initiatives. They are leaders in mobile donations and utilizing technology for giving. Women also are most likely to follow up on where their money is going. As they establish private family foundations and donor-advised funds to funnel money to the charities they care about most, they are having more of an impact on the sector than ever before, experts say.
Rise of women
Several factors explain the increasing influence of women on philanthropy, said Jacki Zehner, CEO of Women Moving Millions, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the advancement of young women. Women now account for half of the workforce and hold wealth in increasing numbers, she said.
"Never in history have women had so much economic and financial power," Zehner said. "Women have always been primarily volunteers, but now women have increasing financial resources to put behind their passions and visions for the world."
Shaw-Hardy, who has had her hand in six books on women's philanthropy since 1995 and has founded many nonprofit groups, said not only are women making money but they are also feeling more comfortable controlling the money. She said women have courage to make important decisions in regard to giving and that in the majority of couples, women control the giving.
When Shaw-Hardy was at the University of Wisconsin in 1988, people didn't take the idea of women in philanthropy seriously, she said. There also was little research on the subject, but thanks to initiatives such as the Women's Philanthropy Institute, the tangible effects women can have in the sector are now being documented.
"The combination of need and opportunity have come together and raised the visibility and potential impact for women's philanthropy," Zehner said.
Women and men
The difference in giving practices between men and women also holds important weight in the sector, Shaw-Hardy said.
"Women give collaboratively because they like to work together as opposed to competing," she said. "Women are more nurturing by their very nature and so they give more from the heart."
Women are also more interested in using technology, such as social networks and the Internet, to promote and establish giving circles, Shaw-Hardy said. The reasons for giving also differ between men and women, she said.
"Men have been much more interested in buildings and much more loyal to institutions than have women," she said. "Men give more because of who's asking them and then second is the cause. With women it's the opposite."
There are giving initiatives established specifically for women, such as the Tiffany Circle of the American Red Cross, which is a society of women who have pledged to give $10,000 or more to the Red Cross on an annual basis. This society allows women to network and establish connections relating to philanthropic values.
Research has found that women give a higher percentage of annual earnings than men, Zehner said, and that the Tiffany Circle doesn't have an equivalent for men.
"Women love to do things together and giving is no exception," Zehner said. "When women are part of a community of networks or philanthropic circles they give more and they enjoy it more."
The mGive Foundation is dedicated to using the latest advancements in technology to facilitate and promote giving. Jenifer Snyder, executive director of the foundation, said the use of mobile technology among women is significantly affecting the philanthropic sector. Her organization raised more than $41 million for Haiti relief efforts through its texting campaign, she said.
"Women consume social media more and text more than men, so it seemed like a natural fit to do text donation campaigns," she said. "It also allows women to move beyond physical giving groups into virtual groups, so it expands the scope of what giving can be."
She said many prominent women, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are vocal in their support of mobile giving campaigns and that the Haiti initiative would likely not have been possible without female support.
"The primary contacts that helped make our text-giving campaign possible were a group of women," she said. "Women have played a huge role in bringing mobile giving to fruition."
She noted other women who are having an impact, such as Alicia Keys, who raised $400,000 in a three-minute call-to-action using mobile technology.
"A lot of females are leading the charge and have had the foresight to include mobile technology in their campaigns, and they are seeing tremendous results," Snyder said.
Women Give 2012, a research report released by the Women's Philanthropy Institute, found that women of the baby boomer generation and older women are more likely to give to charity than their male counterparts.
Data on the change in percentage of women giving over the last few decades are not available, Zehner said, but the data are now being tracked due to anecdotal information and evidence about the increasing role of women in giving.
Impact on the sector
The influence of women in philanthropy will not just be evident in the United States, but globally, Shaw-Hardy said. Women around the world are recognizing their potential and expanding their influence, as well as promoting generosity and the shared use of resources, she said.
Zehner said charities and organizations are taking notice of women in the sector, and they are shifting strategies to accommodate women. There is also likely to be more couple giving, Shaw-Hardy said, with women being a large influence.
"Woman are commanding a lot of attention now by nonprofit groups that previously have not targeted women," Zehner said. "Organizations are actively finding ways to connect women together."
Shaw-Hardy said women add more compassion and thoughtfulness to giving and that they are truly interested in helping those in need.Comment on this story
"Women are much more willing to give globally," she said. "And instead of just putting a Band-Aid on something, women look to identify the cause."
She said women want to do more than just give money, but rather want to see a face associated with their cause. Overall, the external and internal perceptions of women in the sector have undergone a transformation.
"Women are now thinking of themselves as philanthropists," Shaw-Hardy said. "They have the confidence to give that they didn't have before."