As the power of women grows in society, their influence in philanthropy is simultaneously increasing. A recent study from the Women's Philanthropy Institute, "How and Why Women Give 2015," reveals that, due to significant progress toward social and economic equity with men, "women have never before had so much control over philanthropic resources." On top of that, the world is investing in the rights and well-being of women and girls like never before.
With all this going on, major developments for women and philanthropy seem to be happening at every turn. Here is a review of some of the significant trends and emerging topics in women and philanthropy from 2015.
New Women Foundation Presidents
Several foundations appointed women leaders this year. Julia Stasch was the most visible woman in philanthropy to climb into the No. 1 spot at a major U.S. foundation in 2015. Stasch has moved with decisive boldness to streamline MacArthur and focus its resources on some of the biggest challenges of our time, starting with climate change. Meanwhile, Sharon Alpert—Surdna's top program strategist—was tapped to lead the Nathan Cummings Foundation.
Women Philanthropy Leaders Fighting for Marginalized Populations
The NoVo Foundation has conducted some of the most impressive work in this area under the leadership of co-President Jennifer Buffett and Executive Director Pamela Shifman. First, NoVo really raised the red flag on the lack of support for women and girls of color, helping to garner national attention to the issue, which paid off in spades when President Obama announced the new Prosperity Together Initiative, targeting social progress for this population. Second, NoVo recently partnered with Arcus to fund a new $15 million push for the rights of transgender people. Finally, NoVo unveiled an ambitious plan this fall to convert a former women's prison in New York City into a building that will house women's groups and serve as a hub for women's advocacy work.
Women and Giving Circles
As women's giving circles continue to grow, we see some interesting trends. In California, for example, giving circles are focusing on a wide range of issues including sex trafficking and child care for low-income families. New circles are evolving and still figuring out where to put their money. We also want to give a big shout-out to Women Moving Millions, which has mobilized at least $500 million to date in funding specifically for projects and programs benefiting women and girls. That group has big plans for the future. Other major women's donor networks include Rachel's Network, the Women Donors Network, and High Water Women.
Women and STEM
Concern about the lack of girls and women in the tech and science worlds has been growing in recent years, and 2015 saw some notable action by funders on this front. The biggest news came in August, when Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein announced that Kapor Capital, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and Level Playing Field Institute would invest $40 million to advance the inclusivity and diversity in tech entrepreneurship. But we also reported on several other efforts in this area, including by a girls STEM push by the GE Foundation and funding by the Henry Luce Foundation, which encourages women in STEM fields by supporting teaching and scholarship by female scientists. Additionally, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, along with her husband Marc, made sizable grants to Lesbians Who Tech and Trans*H4CK, with the goal of creating a more inclusive tech sector.
Women and Entrepreneurship
A number of funders have been encouraging women to start businesses and build wealth. The Kauffman Foundation is among them. The foundation's 2015 report, Sources of Economic Hope: Women's Entrepreneurship, asserts that "American entrepreneurship and growth is in the hands of women." The report highlights the need to bolster women in entrepreneurship in order to fuel the American economy.
A Foundation-backed Breakthrough on Family Planning
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation works under the radar, but that doesn't stop them from having an astonishing impact on outcomes around family planning. In Colorado, this foundation has been behind an effort to get long-term birth control into the hands of low-income women, and it has paid off with a major reduction not only in the birthrate for teens, but in abortions as well.
The Funder Using Improvisation as a Leadership Tool for Women
We had the pleasure of meeting Ruth Ann Harnisch this past year, and learning about the foundation's unique focus on empowering women and girls through improvisation. Harnisch also had some emboldening advice for women who want to get anywhere in the world: Stop being so damned modest. "Modesty does not serve women's leadership," said Harnisch in our interview. I'm ready to have that one enshrined in Bartlett's Quotations right now.
A Philanthropist Bringing More Visibility to Women Artists
Barbara Lee, a prominent Massachusetts philanthropist and art collector, made a big move this year by donating $10 million dollars worth of women's art to Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, helping to bring women out of the shadows in this arena.
Strong Corporate Philanthropy Leaders on Women and Girls
Some of the most impressive leaders in corporate philanthropy are women. This year, we were particularly impressed by Michele Sullivan at Caterpillar for focusing on girls with its WASH work, Deb Elam at GE for bolstering women in STEM and manufacturing, and Brandee McHale at Citi Bank, whose programs seem to be coming at youth in every which way to get them into the job market.
International Funding for Women Remains Hot
Funders have long recognized the importance of empowering women in developing countries as a key to progress, and momentum is building in this area. And we saw some important investments in women's health. For example, with $75 million from Gates and several other big pledges, the Global Financing Facility is stepping things up.
Foundations Push for a Stronger Presence of Women in Music
The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation is working this issue with $15,000 grants to commission women to compose new works. And taking another angle on the issue, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is funding pilot programs and fellowships to recruit more women conductors for orchestras, where they are woefully underrepresented.
Funders Work to Get More Women into Film and Video
The Sundance Institute has created a mentorship and coaching program with the Harnisch Foundation and Renee Freedman and Company in an effort to bring more women into the director's role. The Adrienne Shelley Foundation is providing scholarships, production grants, finishing funds, and living stipends for women filmmakers. Meanwhile, legendary actress Meryl Streep—who is also an active philanthropist—made a sizeable gift to support older women screenwriters.
This round-up is doubtlessly incomplete, so we invite you to add some more greatest hits for women and philanthropy, 2015, in the comments.