Women, Wealth and Giving – The Power of No

Money means power. We’re ambivalent about it – the money and its influence. Yet last year, individuals in the U.S. donated $212 billion to nonprofits. Philanthropy is big business.

 Women, in particular, are ambivalent about wealth and the power it brings. While women make the majority of spending decisions in a household, we do so very differently than men. We focus on the people and relationships involved, more than the transaction itself.

 Philanthropy feels very different than a financial transaction, yet that’s what it is. We aspire, we decide, we give.

 Women control 33% of wealth in North America, so let’s assume that women made $70 billion of the gifts last year. The thoughtful, intelligent women who gathered at a recent Catalytic Women forum on effective philanthropy shared a common concern: the difficulty of saying “no” to a nonprofit once we’ve made a gift.

 Donors can be an effective market mechanism for the nonprofit sector, directing resources to the best programs. But to do it well, we need to get better at saying no.

 In corporate America, a mediocre widget maker looses sales to a better widget maker. You wouldn’t keep buying the lesser product if a better one is available. But how do nonprofits measure up? A second-rate nonprofit program can continue as long as donors fund it. (In more than two decades working with nonprofits, I have yet to meet anyone who intends to do mediocre work, but it happens.)

 Our sense of loyalty conflicts with our desire for community impact. Yet we do change our minds about which organizations we like best. We learn as we give. (This is a good thing.)

 Our interests should evolve and change from where we gave years ago. Hopefully, we’ve learned more about the issues and the capabilities of nonprofits working in that area. What about those gifts we make to a friend’s favorite cause, which may not be ours? These are good reasons to learn to say no.

 As we think of our resolutions for 2012, what would happen if we removed a few nonprofits from our list? We might:

  • Free up more money for the better functioning nonprofits.
  • Find new models that create community change because we’re looking for alternative organizations to support.
  • Get to know some groups better as we consider directing more money and attention to the most effective nonprofits working in our area of interest.
  • Reflect and share our own knowledge of serious social and environmental programs as we evaluate our gifts to organizations.

For women who want to give with impact and struggle with saying no, there’s a resource. Catalytic Women offers discussions and online resources on strategies and tactics for effective giving. I invite you to visit, explore and add to our ever-evolving resources at www.catalyticwomen.com.


Sources: Charity Navigator, “Leveling the Playing Field” (Boston Consulting, 2010), Money for Good (Hope Consulting, 2011), “Women’s Interest, Attitudes and Involvement with Their Wealth” (Kirby Rosplock, PhD, 2007).


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