When Kay Ballard was a lawyer in Ohio specializing in estate planning, she knew many affluent and powerful women with very good jobs. Yet a majority of those women, she discovered, had never written a check as large as $50 to support a charitable cause or a political candidate.
It wasn't a lack of generosity. "These very same women might be in the habit of making small contributions galore," Ms. Ballard explains. "What they lacked was information about how to be more effective in supporting the causes they value."
Women currently hold at least half the investment wealth in the United States. Yet Americans who give to charities - both men and women - donate only 2 percent of their income to nonprofit organizations. Eight out of 10 do not mention charities in their wills.
Philanthropic leaders consider this a significant time for women's philanthropy.
'It is not necessary to have a trust fund to be a philanthropist. Love, not money, is the true currency of philanthropy,' says Jane Leighty Justis.
"We're on the cusp of seeing more women get or make tremendous amounts of money," says Tracy Gary, a philanthropist in San Francisco who has made a career of educating women of wealth.
Ballard wants to help women increase their effectiveness as donors. For three days earlier this summer, she and 16 other philanthropically minded women gathered in Madison, Wis., to launch an unusual endeavor: a speakers bureau, sponsored by the nonprofit Women's Philanthropy Institute (WPI). Members will talk to groups of women across the country about the rewards of philanthropy.
Women are also taking greater control of their finances, making them receptive to what Sondra Shaw-Hardy of Traverse City, Mich., calls "the joy of giving."
Andrea Kominski, executive director of the WPI, describes the Speakers Bureau as "an assembly of voices, speaking to women about money and giving." It represents the first systematic effort to encourage women to become philanthropic leaders.
"It's been lonely out there for 25 years," says Ms. Gary. "There haven't been many people on the circuit speaking about philanthropy." Yet barriers exist. "We put so much emphasis in America on the spending side," says Martha Taylor, a board member of the institute. "We need to give equal attention to the giving side."
High on the list of challenges for women is what Ms. Taylor terms a "bake-sale mentality," a tendency to think too small. Women say they lack knowledge and confidence in making financial decisions. And some think they lack "ownership" of money, saying, "It's my husband's" or "I inherited it, I didn't earn it."
Even women with wealth fear impoverishment. "It's really true - women are afraid they are going to run out of money," says Ballard, now the director of major and planned giving for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in Washington. "They always want to know, 'How can I be comfortable making a major gift or letting go of a large amount of money?' "
Women's patterns of giving differ from men's. They contribute to twice as many organizations as men do but make smaller donations to each. Jane Leighty Justis of Cascade, Colo., executive director of the Leighty Foundation, a family foundation, refers to this unfocused approach as "guerrilla giving - haphazard, responding to whoever asked them."
Unlike men, women do not tend to base philanthropy on business connections or a desire for public recognition. "Women don't necessarily have to have a building named after them," says Alma Baron, professor emeritus in the School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, and herself a philanthropist. "They want to make a difference."
Many want to make a difference locally, giving to specific projects in their own community. "Women are finding it harder to give to national causes where they don't know how their money is used," says Ms. Shaw-Hardy, co-author of "Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women's Philanthropy."
For a younger generation of women, Gary sees other challenges. Many hard-working professionals lack time to think about sharing the fruits of their success. Proposed cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare also make some reluctant to give away money. And because many young people have not been involved in church, Gary says, "it's going to be harder for some to think about philanthropy."
Persistent stereotypes also exclude women. "If you were to close your eyes and think of the image of a philanthropist, it would probably be a white, middle-aged male," says Barbara Stein of Milwaukee, a member of the Speakers Bureau. "But philanthropy is not a male-only noun."
Philanthropy is a learned skill
Nor is it inborn. Every philanthropist, Ballard observes, has had to learn how to do it. As a beginning, Dr. Baron suggests these steps: "Budget out what you need to live on, and see what's left. Then begin to give a little, so it isn't such a shock to you."
Yet women's greatest need is for better education from financial administrators. "We need lawyers and trust officers who will encourage this," says Shaw-Hardy. "Unfortunately, some trust officers don't want women to give away their money because it cuts down on commissions for them." Without financial planning, Taylor adds, women will always think they have insufficient funds.
Although most women give from income they have earned or inherited, some create charitable events to raise money. Three years ago Rebecca Jorgenson Miller of Minnetonka, Minn., started a fund-raiser called Hats & Mittens, a holiday dinner-dance that draws 350 guests. Proceeds have funded scholarships for deaf students and a safe house that shelters homeless teenagers.
Such efforts also benefit participants. "We began to think outside ourselves," Ms. Miller says, explaining that in a circle of 30 well-to-do friends, only three had previously been involved in anything vaguely resembling philanthropy.
Taylor says women will give "a lot more money when they identify their passion." The act of giving to worthy causes, says Ballard, "is a powerful message to yourself and the universe that there will always be enough. It helps you relax about money. The act is so empowering that it makes you able to possibly earn more and see more opportunities."
Adds Gary, "I am quite sure we are not dreaming big enough We will have a healthier country if we reach out."
Ms. Justis emphasizes that it is not necessary to have a trust fund to be a philanthropist. She says, "Love, not money, is the true currency of philanthropy."
Practical Steps For a Giving Strategy
The Women's Philanthropy Institute in Madison, Wis., offers these suggestions for effective giving:
* Identify two or three things that mean a lot to you.
* Ask yourself: What values do I want to pass on to the next generation? What people and institutions have had the most impact on my life? What are the major needs of society? Which ones are the most important to solve?
* Set priorities. Consider gathering the family together at Thanksgiving to plan your philanthropy for the year.
* Don't scatter your contributions too widely. Have a giving plan. Give fewer gifts, but larger.