How To Engage Women Philanthropically in Today’s World

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By Diane Lebson

“Men are motivated and empowered when they feel needed, while women are motivated and empowered when they feel cherished.”

– John Gray, Ph.D., author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

This quote could serve as the headline for research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. That research reveals that while men engage in philanthropy as a task, women engage in philanthropy for relationships:

  • For men, giving is often more about self-interest. For women, giving is based on empathy for others.
  • Women are likely to give collectively: 70% of giving circles are majority women.
  • Women across generations are more likely than men to give.

During the pandemic, many people and organizations struggled to connect meaningfully with others. The term “social distancing” is in conflict with why many women engage in philanthropy. While they naturally seek connection, they were told to keep 6 feet apart from others in order to keep others safe. In-person events that once served as the foundation of women’s cultivation strategies migrated to less-personal Zoom formats. Masking concealed the most basic element of relationships — a welcoming and friendly smile.

I am not suggesting that social distancing, Zooming and masking are wrong: these strategies protect people from COVID-19. What I am saying is that the activities in which we engaged to keep us safe from the pandemic took a toll on our ability to sustain relationships with women. Nonprofit organizations that overcame these obstacles found creative approaches to continue to engage women in meaningful ways.

As we navigate the current dynamics and enter a (hopefully) post-pandemic era in the near future, here are some ways to engage women in your mission:

  1. Engage women in creating solutions. Women often want to do more than write a check – they enjoy helping solve problems. Rather than presenting women with glossy case statements and programs that feel too perfect to be true, consider candidly sharing with them the challenges you face so that might help you address them. They might be willing to leverage their networks or volunteer to help you.
  2. Recruit them to your board. While the number of women on nonprofit boards continues to grow, men continue to dominate — only 43% of all nonprofit boards are women. That number plummets to 33%for organizations with $25 million or more in revenue. When you engage women on your board, you bring people who bring their whole selves to the role — their time, their talent, and their treasure. Further, the issues that many nonprofits are now confronting around the pandemic and social justice require empathy, a significant driver for why women get involved.
  3. Host virtual events that include breakout sessions and other features so that they can connect with one another. Virtual engagement is more than uploading a presentation onto Zoom — that is a TV show with a receive-only passive audience. To ensure that people remain connected during virtual engagements, limit talking head presentations to no longer than 20 minutes, include breaks for questions, build in breakout rooms so that participants can process what they heard in small groups and include social time before or after the official meeting so that people can connect with one another. One of the major reasons why women get involved with nonprofit organizations is so that they can engage with like-minded people. If doing so in person is not possible, ensure that your online platforms empower them to do so.

Organizations that are able to sustain relationships with women in spite of social distancing, Zooming and masking will prove to be more resilient than they were prior to the pandemic. And that’s a great silver lining.

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