Women and Philanthropy: Boldly Shaping a Better World

If women ran the world, there would be no war, says Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first and currently only elected female head of state in Africa. "It would be a better, safer, and more productive world. A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task — and sensitivity to humankind. It comes from being a woman."

In the final chapter of their book Women and Philanthropy: Boldly Shaping a Better World, Sondra Shaw-Hardy, Martha Taylor, and Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz use Johnson Sirleaf's quote to tie together their thesis that not only are women perfectly suited to the challenges of philanthropy, but, because of their distinct approach to giving, are uniquely positioned to drive real and lasting change in the world.

As Shaw-Hardy et al.tell it, Women and Philanthropy had its start in a few large but unanswered questions: What's behind the women's philanthropy movement? And in what ways have women changed philanthropy? Being good researchers, their search for the answers brought them into contact with inspiring women from all over the country. The result, part academic treatise, part collection of anecdotes, part how-to guide, doesn't confine itself to meticulously compiled research detailing the already significant presence of women in philanthropy (although you'll find plenty of that). No, Women and Philanthropy makes a compelling case that despite the traditional male dominance of the field, it's high time to pay more attention to the philanthropic contributions of women.

The book opens with a discussion of the differences in women's and men's styles of giving, communicating, and taking action. The authors then explore how and why women give, with a focus on their motivations and ways in which fundraising professionals can tap those motivations. This section also includes a look at generational and stage-of-life giving, complete with a discussion of the differences between boomer and Gen Y giving. The next three chapters highlight the movement to get more women involved in leadership roles in philanthropy, including sections on women as nonprofit leaders as well as how to engage high-net-worth women, and it closes with a discussion of the future of women's philanthropy. Each chapter ends with a list of "Takeaways" designed to help nonprofits put the information in that chapter to use.

While I liked Women and Philanthropy overall, I tend to be wary of books that lean on sweeping generalizations based on sociological constructs (such as gender). Yes, the claims that Shaw-Hardy et al. make are largely supported by empirical research and are well documented in the statistical evidence they present, but the authors spend too much time making overly broad claims about the way all women behave — whether they're talking about how women are more disposed to relationship-building then men or drawing parallels between "creation" in the nonprofit sector and women's unique role in "creat[ing] future generations through birth." Okay, I get that women tend to view their roles more in terms of nurturing and building relationships than men do, but comparing nonprofit work to childbirth is a bit much.

That said, Women and Philanthropy has something to offer pretty much anyone who works in or around philanthropy. For those who work in development, the book is full of indispensable information about how to reach out to and build relationships with women donors. For donors, the book provides lots of interesting anecdotes about the impact that one's dollars can make. And for nonprofit leaders and practitioners, the book is a fascinating account of the women-driven changes that have occurred in the sector over the last thirty years as well as the great potential for change driven by women yet to be tapped.

Reilly Kiernan
Educational Services Fellow
Foundation Center
New York, New York