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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

How Women's Foundations Use Their Money

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Although women’s foundations and funds, which experessly support programs benefiting women, are relatively new — 71% were set up between 1990 and 2010 — their giving has been substantial, according to a new report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. These causes are popular with high-net-worth female donors.

Members of the Women’s Funding Network granted $410 million to causes related to women and girls in 2015, the report said, noting that many other U.S. women’s foundations and funds are not members of the international network.

The report, which was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, builds on a 2009 landscape study from the WFN and the Foundation Center. Its goal is to expand knowledge about women’s foundations and funds and the work they do.

The report’s lead researcher Elizabeth Gillespie, doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska Omaha, said in a statement that the original study is now 10 years old, and understanding of these groups is quite limited.

“The goal of this new research is to fill that gap, and to demonstrate how women’s foundations and funds create impact — so they can continue to do so for years to come,” Gillespie said.

The research focused on some 200 organizations with “foundation” or “fund” in their names that direct grants to nonprofits and programs supporting and advancing women.

The report found that 63% of these entities were members or affiliates of larger foundations or other charitable organizations, while 37% were standalone 501(3)(c)s. Their annual grants varied in size, with 44% distributing less than $100,000 per year and 40% granting between $100,000 and $1 million.

Although they exist mainly to make grants, two-thirds of women’s foundations and funds also engage in other activities to support their mission, such as advocating on women’s and girls’ behalf, conducting research and hosting events.

According to the research, 76% of women’s foundations and funds support nonprofit groups in their local communities. The report said this reflects the idea that women’s organizations connect the well-being and success of women to that of their communities.

The main target of more than half of these grant makers is the general population of women and girls, followed by women and children, low-income women, women and girls of color, Jewish women and girls, and LGBTQI women and girls.

These are the top priority areas of their grantmaking:

  • Education — 63%
  • Economic empowerment, security, self-sufficiency — 61%
  • Health — 54%
  • Leadership — 41%

About half of the organizations in the research described an identifiable grant-making philosophy on their websites, according to the report. These included community-based philanthropy, data-driven grantmaking, gender-lens grantmaking, impact investing, social change philanthropy and venture philanthropy.

“Women’s foundations and funds are at the forefront of investing in women and girls — a growing movement in philanthropy,” Debra Mesch, the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said in a statement.

“For donors who want to increase their involvement with women’s and girls’ causes, these organizations can serve as an expert resource and a conduit to effective local nonprofits.”

— Check out Donations Surge When ‘Everybody’s Doing It’: Study on ThinkAdvisor.