Women in Philanthropy: “Not just ribbon cutters”

Director of Philanthropy says women are changing face of giving
Turning to youth: BeyondMe’s under-35s

A common criticism of charitable giving is that it is dominated by older, white men giving away their cash, while women are relegated to the role of ribbon cutter.

Certainly, when it comes to the images we associate with philanthropy, history is far more likely to paint the picture of a woman with a pair of scissors in her hand than a chequebook.

But that image is changing, according to the City Corporation’s head of philanthropy engagement, Cheryl Chapman, who has spoken out on women’s growing role in charitable giving ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March. “There is definitely an increase in the number of women being wealth holders, influencers, and they’re starting to come through as change makers,” she says.

“Big trusts and foundations have historically been men, and now we’re seeing females featured; the wife is getting a billing now. “These are women philanthropists in their own right, rather than just the ribbon cutters.” A 2014 report published by the Charities Aid Foundation [CAF] showed that 63% of women had participated in at least one charitable activity in the month prior to the survey, compared to only 52% of men.

Cheryl says a lack of research in the UK has meant those in the sector have had to rely on the testimony of charity organisations to try to track the growth of women’s influence. “The best research is in America – our sisters across the pond are a lot further ahead than here in the UK,” Cheryl says.

“But anecdotally if you talk to organisations like CAF they’ll say they’re seeing a lot more women getting involved. “There are also indicators like the Sunday Times Giving List, 20 years ago that would have been all men, whereas we are now seeing some female big ticket philanthropists coming through like JK Rowling, Dame Stephanie Shirley, Dame Vivien Duffield.”

While big-name givers are raising the profile of women in the sector, Cheryl says the most exciting changes are coming through in the next generation as we see barriers to giving such as wealth and time eliminated, and an increase in digital and grassroots campaigns.

BeyondMe and Raise Your Hands are two organisations aimed at getting under-35s involved in giving by connecting young pros with charitable organisations. According to Cheryl, both organisations are reporting a greater percentage of female members than male, indicating a “shift in gender”, which will likely have implications for the whole sector.

“Women give in a different way to men,” she explains. “They tend to listen more, they’re more inclusive – more likely to meet the people they’re benefiting – there’s more of a listening and learning approach that men don’t tend to do so much.

“Research out of America shows women are more altruistic in creating solutions and delivering change… there’s more collaboration – they are more likely to work with others rather than reinventing the wheel all the time. “They’re also more likely to celebrate with their peers, get together and discuss it – it’s a softer approach but very considered and thoughtful and focused on the impact.”

And while Cheryl admits the sector has a long way to go towards achieving any sense of equality (the 2016 Giving List featured just six females in the top 30), the barriers of 20 years ago no longer apply.

“Philanthropy is changing, you don’t need a lot of money to make a lot of difference anymore, and there are more opportunities for women to be involved through their networks and digital crowdfunding. “The only barrier you might have now is their mindset – the ‘what can I do?’ – but I think we’re seeing that change too.”