Funding for Women Lags but May Soon Gain Ground


In October the Women's Philanthropy Institute released its first Women and Girls Index, a study containing the startling information that in 2016 charitable organizations dedicated to women and girls received a mere 1.6% of the total funds given. In addition, while more than 45,000 charitable organizations dedicated to women and girls exist, they make up only 3.3% of the total.

To put it into further perspective, women's and girls' nonprofits received about one fifth the amount of money dedicated to arts programs, and one tenth the amount spent on higher education. In a New York Times article, Vanessa Daniel, executive director of the Groundswell Foundation, revealed that only 0.6% of all foundation giving was directed to women of color in 2016. In addition, 90% of the money dedicated to women and girls went to one area: reproductive health.

With those facts in mind, it seems like a good moment to highlight several funders focused on grantmaking to organizations working with women and girls. Since nine out of ten such funders direct their money toward reproductive health, I selected organizations that focus on other areas and came up with a cross section of groups, large and small, working in women's empowerment, entrepreneurship, art, and more. Most of these have open application processes. The few that don't were ones I thought were worth highlighting due to their focus or impact.

Nine Funders of Note

Anonymous Was a Woman: As suggested by its name, this organization was established by an unknown person. She later revealed herself to be famed photographer Susan Unterberg, who formed Anonymous Was a Woman in 1996 in response to the National Endowment of the Arts' decision to stop supporting individual artists. Her organization gives $25,000 awards to ten women each year, and so far has awarded over $6 million to 240 artists. While many funders funnel their giving toward young recipients, Anonymous Was a Woman's awards are restricted to applicants over age 40.

Adobe Foundation: This funder gave away more than $7 million in grants in 2017 in areas that included higher education, professional development, and housing, in amounts averaging $20,000 to $100,000. One of its notable grants that year was $750,000 to Iridescent (now Technovation) for a program designed to empower the next generation of women technology entrepreneurs.

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice: With giving that neared $5 million in 2018, this foundation funds lesbian organizations and cultural/media projects that address lesbian and trans issues. It also supports LGBTQI organizations, women's organizations, and progressive organizations that have lesbians and trans people in leadership roles, and include lesbian and trans issues as an integral part of their work.

Cartier Women's Initiative: This funder maintains an international business plan competition, created in 2006, that aims to identify, support, and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs. Seven winners receive $100,000 each in prize money, and fourteen finalists receive $30,000. Since its inception, awards have been made to more than 200 women in 50 countries.

Dress for Success: This unique funder has an anti-poverty focus, but addresses its goal of helping women achieve financial independence by providing professional attire for the workplace, as well as maintaining support networks, offering mentoring services, and providing development tools. Since its founding in 1996 the organization's reach has expanded to 30 countries, with 154 offices and 12,000 volunteers serving more than a million women.

Frida Young Feminist Fund: The name of this organization is derived from an anagram for flexibility, resources, inclusivity, diversity, and action. Run entirely by young feminists in order to build the resilience of young women, girls, and trans youth, the broad focus is on supporting feminist causes and creating a more just and sustainable world.

Global Fund for Women: With a focus on gender equality, this organization assists groups advancing human rights for women, girls, and LBTQI people, and gave more than $10 million in 2017. Close to 30% of its money goes to organizations with budgets of less than $50,000 a year, and more than 90% goes to organizations working in countries where civil society is rated obstructed, repressed, or closed by the civil society network and advocacy organization CIVICUS.

National Indigenous Women's Resource Center: A tiny proportion of overall charitable funding goes toward indigenous women. The NIWRC prioritizes the women and children of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations, and focuses primarily on ending gender-based violence.

National Women's Law Center: NWLA was founded in 1972 and focuses on the rights of working women and low-income women, dealing with issues ranging from equal to pay to Title IX issues on college campuses to sexual harassment. The organization also works on the front lines of LGBTQ rights and the #MeToo movement.

Gates Releases Flood of Funds

In addition to the above, philanthropist Melinda Gates in October pledged to spend $1 billion over the next decade on gender equality issues. In an op-ed published by Time magazine, she explained, “I want to see more women in the position to make decisions, control resources, and shape policies and perspectives. I believe that women’s potential is worth investing in—and the people and organizations working to improve women’s lives are too.”

Gates intends to funnel her dollars into three areas. She plans to work toward fast-tracking women in sectors with outsized impacts on society, such as technology, media, and public office, to dismantle the barriers to women’s professional advancement, and to mobilize shareholders, consumers, and employees in order to amplify external pressure on companies and organizations in need of reform.

According to the Women's Philanthropy Institute, in 2016 approximately $6.3 billion in charitable contributions was given to organizations dedicated to helping women and girls. Gates' $1 billion contribution, when divided over ten years, won't push the share of cash given annually to women and girls organizations anywhere near where advocates say it should be, but even so her pledge represents a tremendous boost.

Public awareness of women's issues has skyrocketed in recent years. That awareness represents an opportunity to dramatically shift the charitable giving landscape toward a more equitable distribution of donated funds. But as Gates points out in her op-ed, awareness doesn't always last forever. The world could be in the midst of permanent social shift, but perhaps not. Which is why it's crucial that the current window of opportunity be fully leveraged.

Action steps you can take today
  • Conduct research using GrantStation’s funder database, which currently has more than 70 pages of results for funders that partly or wholly focus on women and girls.
  • Read the Women and Girls Index for a detailed examination of the gender funding gap.