Clout of women donors climbs

Gone are the days when women's philanthropy referred only to sweet dears who ran the school auction or gussied up for the charity gala.

This decade, women have emerged as a financially high-powered cadre, poised to give generously of their business skills and their money.

By 1992, women-owned businesses employed more people than did Fortune 500 companies. In 1997, women held half of the chief executive officer positions at foundations across the United States.

This year, women - including some who are beneficiaries of large inheritances - control slightly more than half the personal wealth in the nation, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Board.

They also donate twice as much as men, according to a study by the National Science Foundation.

"These days, charitable fund-raisers are learning that nobody can afford to overlook the rising influence of women," says Sharon Hadary, executive director of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners.

The NFWBO revealed new research at a day-long conference at Simmons College in Boston last month that focused on women and philanthropy.

More than 200 women attended, ranging from powerful corporate executives to entrepreneurs, fund-raisers, and financial advisers. Many belonged to The Committee of 200 (C200), a group that requires its members to own companies with revenues in excess of $15 million, or manage divisions of US corporations that generate at least $100 million a year.

The conference kicked off with the NFWBO's survey of C200 members, revealing that 74 percent of the women polled created their wealth on their own.

Also, 84 percent make philanthropic decisions on their own, even if they are married. But regardless of whether women in the major leagues of philanthropy inherit their fortunes or earn them, these women aren't just writing checks. They are also demanding more influence over exactly how their donations are spent.

"These savvy women, who have demonstrated business acumen, are motivated to give to organizations that support issues that they are passionate about," says Linda Paresky, chair emerita of the C200 Foundation.

Indeed, 86 percent of the women polled said their philanthropic decisions are influenced not only by their passion for the cause but also by whether or not the organization is managed well.

The survey also found that women are more interested in promoting causes, like education or women's health, than in having their names on buildings. Women also prefer collaborative rather than competitive fund-raising approaches.

Despite playing a bigger role in philanthropy, 1 in 4 women surveyed believes women are still not taken as seriously as men by those seeking donations.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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