The New Power of the Purse: Younger Women and the Future of Philanthropy

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Hang around the philanthrosphere long enough and you'll realize that it's something of a matriarchy. Sure, most of the biggest foundations are still run by men and male zillionaires get endless attention for their philanthropy. But women comprise most staff in foundations, half of all foundations are run by women, and it's actually the wives of those zillionaires who often decide where the family's gifts go. 

Now comes a study from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) suggesting that the influence of women is likely to grow greater in coming years as a younger generation rises, with big implications for philanthropy.

“Nonprofit leaders and fundraisers must recognize the importance of single and married women as donors,”  said Debra Mesch, director of WPI. “Fundraisers who don’t know how to raise money from women simply will not be as successful as Millennials and Gen Xers step fully into their giving.”

The study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that the percentage of GenX/Millennial couples in which women influence charitable giving is growing, compared to pre-Boomer couples. On top of this, the level of giving in these female-influenced couples is increasing. “Compared to pre-Boomers, GenX/Millennial married couples where the woman has an influence on the household’s giving tend to give higher amounts than when the man alone makes giving decisions,” said a press release from WPI.

Of course, close readers of Inside Philanthropy don't need a new study to tell them that women wield ever more clout when it comes to giving away the family fortune. Over the last several years, we've closely chronicled the rise of younger women leaders in philanthropy such as Priscilla Chan (Mark Zuckerberg's wife), Cari Tuna (married to Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz), and Laura Arnold, who's given away hundreds of millions of dollars with her retired hedge fund husband John. 

And there are many more where they came from. Meanwhile, just ahead of them are Baby Boomers, close to the number of Generation Xers. Melinda Gates, at age 52, has always been an equal partner in Gates philanthropy and her influence seems only to be growing as time goes on. Most notably, she's led the world's largest foundation to give more attention to gender issues. 

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Then there is Jennifer Buffett, wife of Peter Buffett, and co-founder of the NoVo Foundation, which has massive capital at hand from Berkshire Hathaway stock. Jennifer has been key in building a foundation that is second to none in its laser-like focus on women and girls. 

Also on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Generation X is another leader in the new world of women's giving: Jacki Zehner. Zehner is the chief engagement officer for Women Moving Millions, an organization that gathers like-minded women philanthropists and helps them find their voices and mobilize new resources for gender around the world. 

Other women from younger generations we're keeping an eye on include Liz Simons, who is fast building the Heising-Simons Foundation into a powerhouse; Katherine Lorenz, who heads the George and Cynthia Mitchell Foundation; and Jennifer Rainin, who has led the rapid emergence of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation in San Francisco. 

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Aside from influencing family giving, more single high-net-worth women are moving powerfully into their philanthropy, among both Generation Xers (ages 34 to 54) and the Millennials (ages 18 to 34). Just the other day, we wrote about Jennifer Lawrence, the top-earning actress in the world, who has moved quickly to give away some her winnings. Sara Blakely is the youngest self-made woman to sign the Giving Pledge. 

We could go on, but you get the point: The rise of women is changing how the philanthrosphere works, and every fundraiser in America needs to key into this shift. 

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