For years, women's roles in social causes have been as the organizer, the phone answerer, the stamp licker.
Now, more and more women are starting to add another line to that resume: check writer.
"Women's philanthropy is a rising trend. You're seeing women have access to financial resources as never before," said Kathy LeMay, a professional "social change fund-raiser" and president and CEO of Raising Change, which helps nonprofit organizations raise capital to advance their causes worldwide.
"Always, women have been combining their time, their talent and their treasure to make a difference," she said. "This is the time for women to have the greatest impact for women in history. Hands down."
LeMay spoke in advance of her Tuesday night keynote address at the United Way of Salt Lake's "Power of the Purse" event to celebrate the organization's Women's Philanthropic Network. Launched last October, the group now has about 100 members who contribute $2,500 annually to the immigrant integration initiative, which helps area immigrants and refugees with things such as language acquisition, education and job skills.
The Women's Philanthropic Network was created with the idea to empower Utah women to pool their money for a common cause, said Joy Erickson, major gifts director at the United Way of Salt Lake.
LeMay's message aligns perfectly with the group's mission, she said, which is why organizers invited her to speak to the women gathered at the downtown Grand America Hotel.
"Women have really come into a greater sense of information and power over the last 10 or 20 or 30 years," Erickson said. "They generally look at philanthropy a little differently."
More so than men, women tend to become more involved in a cause than simply donating money on a regular basis, LeMay said. They also tend to better leverage their donor dollars by invoking what she calls the "three Cs" of philanthropy: connection, collaboration and community.
"Philanthropy is one of the vehicles where women can affect change ... it's a place where a lot of women find their voice," she said.
After being involved in various causes throughout her high school years, LeMay really got her start as a social activist when she traveled to war-torn Yugoslavia in 1994. Then 24 years old, she sent a fax to the Women's Association of Bosnia, letting them know she was on her way, and hopped on a flight to the war-torn region.
"I didn't grow up with financial resources, but I grew up with a lot of will and a lot of passion," she said, noting that she's often asked what prompted her to make social activism and philanthropy her life's work. "I was mad enough," she said.
Which leads to LeMay's advice to every woman looking to become more involved in a cause discovering what you care the most about and what goal you would like to see achieved.
"What's the one thing that keeps you up at night? When you're alone and by yourself?" LeMay challenges women to ask themselves. This is not, she said, the same as what women think they should care about.
Live those values with your money. Write checks where your heart lives," she added.
LeMay's goal for her Tuesday night speech was to leave her Salt Lake audience with the feeling that they can make a difference in their community and beyond."The possibilities are available to every single woman in that room," she said. "Together we're stronger. Don't try to go it alone."
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