As I received my college degree and a donation letter from my alma mater on the same day last May, I remember initially thinking: “Can I please pay off the remaining balance of my student loans first?” But then the secondary thoughts that followed were: “How do I actually give charitably as an adult? Do I claim that on a tax return? When do I even give — after I establish myself? Or, do I give now because I am always going to have tiresome adult payments to make? I had an overwhelming plethora of thoughts, but not one of those thoughts were — “I do not want to give.” And I have a feeling that many women share similar generous sentiments to my own.
According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, single women give more than single men; women give across organizations while men give only to specific, individual organizations; and women give across all charitable sub-sectors except for sports and adult recreation. What those statistics tell me is women give, they give a lot, and they give in a lot of areas. Yet, I am fairly certain if you were to name the first philanthropist that comes to your mind at this moment, it would be a man.
I could refer back once again to my college education to provide an assortment of complex explanations as to why men are more readily identified as philanthropists. But I think that all of those nuanced theories would begin by applying the same practical solution to the non-academic world. That solution being that we all benefit when women’s contributions to society are appropriately recognized. When women’s contributions are properly acknowledged women don’t continue giving in search of recognition they should have already received. Instead, women give what is appropriate for their situation when their contributions are appropriately acknowledged and women continue to give because they wish to, not because they feel they must give to validate their identity or even past gifts they feel went unrecognized.
Jacki Zehner, Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions further articulates the generosity of women and the lack of female identity in philanthropy eloquently. “When we think about philanthropy, we often think of men. Yet, I’ve learned that women are more generous with their time and money at all ages and income levels. More and more women are also becoming ‘career philanthropists,’ dedicating vast resources to changing the world for the better. We need to hear their stories.”
So, in writing this piece and in search of more stories, I consulted with my colleague, Katharyn Wiegand, Vice President of Community Investment because she has been gracious enough to accessibly model what a young female philanthropist looks like for me.
I was most interested in tracing the lineage that led to Katharyn’s giving and the causes to which she gives. When I directly asked her who her female philanthropic role models were she had this to say:
“While our area is blessed with many women able to give substantial gifts, it is examples of small, consistent giving that have made a lasting impression on me over the years.
— Katharyn Wiegand”
It was the teacher who gave $25 per month to help fund a scholarship for a local student.
It was the members of a women’s study club who held events to raise money for community projects.
It was the widow woman at church who gave faithfully on a meager income.
It is my older sister who is always reaching out to help someone.
The Panhandle of Texas is filled with women who give from the heart to help our communities thrive. They give what they can and together these gifts make a significant difference.”
Katharyn’s quote illustrates two points for me. The first being the practice of women coming together to collectively give, like the members of the women’s study club raising money for community projects. Our Women’s Philanthropy Fund reflects that structure and consists of a group of Panhandle women who come together to pool their resources to fund causes with the greatest needs.
The second point that Katharyn’s quote elucidates for me, and the larger point this column is committed to identifying and celebrating, is the consistent gifts of women and the cumulative impact of consistent gifts over time. Like the teacher who gave $25 a month to eventually sponsor a significant scholarship to help a student through college.
This column will certainly draw implications on the shared experiences women have as a gender in philanthropy. We are calling it “She Gives” because the “she” pronoun can generally encompass female experiences or causes we all give to. “She” is just like us, someone we can all relate to. But also “She Gives” in the singular, because the “she” featured here every quarter will be an individual, a woman with circumstances and accomplishments unique to herself. The power in differentiating her experiences and claiming ownership of her contributions being a sense of empowerment applicable to all women, giving them agency to receive more fulfillment out of life. A place where women see their own possibilities in someone else’s reality.
And with that, join us this summer as we begin to tell the stories that should have been told all along. The stories Jacki Zehner encourages us to hear, and the stories our communities need to hear.
by Olivia Trabysh