Archive for July, 2009

BEGINNINGS: WHAT’S A WOMAN PHILANTHROPIST?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Philanthropists aren’t defined by big-money gifts. Rather, you become one by examining your values and finding the cause that moves you enough to dedicate your money and/or skills to it. So far no big whoop, right?

But here’s the critical piece: After identifying that cause, you ought to carefully consider whether the investment you’ve chosen can actually move the needle. Will your involvement make a difference? If so, is that difference enough to make you feel the investment is worthwhile?

These are hard questions to answer. And only you have the right one. As one advisor puts it, “Philanthropy is as individual and deeply personal as the person doing the giving. There are no real rules, like there are for being a good investor. We don’t have metrics for being a good giver.”

Still, while the rewards may be individual, the steps of involvement have an echo. That is, one charitable act leads to another and then others, which motivates greater engagement. Soon, we want our contributions to count more, to be strategic.

As women develop skills and money, our attention to shifting to worldwide problems that affect us intimately. “In the past five years, I have seen more emphasis on causes that relating to women and children, says Ann Lurie, who pledged, both privately and through her Chicago-based Ann and Robert H. Lurie Foundation, a staggering $108 million dollars to charity in 2007. “ Women are better caretakers and stewards of their giving, more hands-on.”

One of the country’s leading donors, Lurie consistently earns top rankings on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual list of the 50 most generous Americans. “Long before I had a checkbook for what’s described as ‘transformational philanthropy,’ I learned at a young age that being helpful in some way to someone who needs help can produce a lot of personal gratification,” she says. “My mother said I should do a good deed daily, and she gave me some examples. So I started doing that at a fairly young age. It was the high point of my day.”

In the mid-’80s, Lurie, a registered nurse, and her husband Robert, the business partner of real estate investment baron Sam Zell, began thinking about philanthropy in a structured way. After setting up the foundation, they came up with a list of general areas to support. But in 1988,  Robert developed; he died two years later. “We were partners and it’s been many years and still painful,” she says. With six children—”my youngest was five”—Lurie was determined to carry on.

Over the years, Lurie built on the list they made. “Primarily, I’ve chosen causes that stir me in some way and that also make me think my contributions can make a difference. It’s not always the case.”

Though she funds a variety of groups, Lurie focuses on two areas. Last year, she committed $100 million gift for a new children’s hospital in downtown Chicago. She also does extensive work in Africa. She has not only founded Aid Village Clinics, which provides healthcare to 90,000 people in southeast Kenya, but also built schools in Ethiopia and sponsored 25 Masai youngsters through high school and college. “I like to stay around and watch the evolution of the changes I’ve been able to make,” she says.

Through it all, Lurie says her childhood habit has stayed with her. “I walk a lot,” she says. “I often see people on Michigan Avenue wringing their hands over a map. So I walk up to them, say I live here and can I help. You get so much gratitude from pointing people in the right direction—just like righting things on a bigger scale.”

HOW WILL YOUR STORY BE WRITTEN?

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Though fully occupied by the rush of careers and responsibilities, women of means are nonetheless devoting ever more time, talent and treasure to fueling change. “The big shift today is that women have so much more money and therefore more of a voice,” says Lee Hausner, a long-time family wealth consultant. “Women are now inheritors in families that were once sexist. They have MBAs and art and philosophy degrees. They’re investment pros and attorneys. They’re educated in the financial community.” With developing resources, women are focusing on the future, weighing actions, options and priorities. As Hausner puts it: “Fifty or sixty years from now, what would you like to say about your family and dreams. If you want your family close, productive, accepting diversity, making a difference in the world, then what are you going to do now to get you there?”

The stories about women becoming committed to a bigger purpose, to building something that will outlive them, are surfacing frequently as boomer women consider what’s next. These are altogether contemporary legacies, on a scale without previous precedent or model. The stories are ongoing and often revised, so the full impact is still largely under the radar. Here’s a snapshot of how women are putting their money to work.

“Women demand a high level of perfection and even if we’re close to perfect, we don’t give ourselves enough credit,” says Mae Jemison. She would know.

In 1992, at age 36, Jemison was the first black woman astronaut to blast into space, serving as the Endeavour team’s science specialist. Beforehand, armed with chemical engineering and medical degrees, she served as a Peace Corps doctor in Africa. Nowadays, after a stint of teaching at Dartmouth, Jemison runs her own medical technology research firm. Her heart, and the private foundation she named for her mother, remains committed to scientific literacy. Among other projects, for more than a decade, Jemison has organized and funded The Earth We Share, an annual four-week science camp for youngsters 12 to 16. The kids come from Bermuda, Hong Kong, Ghana, India — all over the world — and work in teams to develop solutions to global problems.

“I’ve learned over the years that you need to make enough money to be part of the conversation,” says Jemison. “But in the end you can’t eat or smell it. Money is a means of exchange for what’s important to you.”

OVERLOOKED AND UNDERVALUED: GIVING BY WOMEN OF COLOR

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

During a recent energizing lunch meeting with Michele Minter, Vice President of Development, The College Board, we talked about the glaring lack of information, research and knowledge about how women of color prefer to give, the causes they choose and how they make their philanthropic decisions. For instance, we don’t really know if African American women donors identify first with race or first with gender when they give. In other words, even the basic research stuff has not been addressed.

Such concerns were investigated in a presentation by Michele and Kijua Sanders McMurtry, an associate dean at Agnes Scott College, at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute symposium last November. While philanthropic behavior usually focuses on whites, and, in particular, on white males, African Americans give more of their discretionary income to charity than any other racial or ethnic group. Women are at the heart of that giving, both in money and time.

“Of course, different communities of color have different giving patterns, histories and experiences, so it’s hard to generalize,” reminds Michele. “Still, women of color have a perspective both as a female and as a person of color so fundraisers need to honor their multiple identities.”

Fundraisers must avoid making the mistake of assuming that female solidarity will smooth over other cultural differences.

A case study of African American women’s contributions can be seen in The Links, Inc., an African American social services organization. Founded in 1946, The Links was started by two women who galvanized their friends to establish a club at a time when Jim Crow laws were still in effect. The group’s philosophy was rooted in “linking friends in service” to their communities and to targeting educational, civic and cultural issues.

In 1974, The Links gave the largest donation ever made by a black organization up to that point when they contributed $132,000 to the United Negro College Fund. Over the past 60 years, the group has given $1 million each to the UNCF, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. “When you link service, friendship, resources, and talent, you are able to make remarkable differences in the communities you serve,” says Kijua Sanders-McMurtry.

Today, The Links, Inc., remains an activist black women’s service organization with more than 11,000 members and 275 chapters in the U.S., the Bahamas, Germany and South Africa. Its members have a proven philanthropic record of racial and social support. It offers an organizational model for other African American groups and nonprofits, specifically related to activism, philanthropy and uplift.

EDUCATION: HOW TO DRIVE THE LEARNING CURVE

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

In the mid-’90s, Patricia Gruber was a successful psychotherapist with a thriving practice in Berkeley, Calif. She made a real difference. “I had a great referral network and a lot of support from local people in the field.” But her husband Peter, an investment manager, was offered a job in St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They decided to move. “It was a big transition,” says Gruber. “I felt like I was too far along in my career to start over.”

Then her father became ill and the next three years were devoted to his care. In 2000, after her father died, Gruber gradually got involved with the private foundation that her husband had been operating on his own—“he made all the money and the foundation was his idea,” she explains.

Life took a complete turn. “It developed a whole other side of me. I did not have an MBA or any nonprofit management experience and I never thought I’d be suited for it, or that it would make me feel so happy and capable,” she says.

To get up-to-speed, Gruber took an online course in grant making offered by the Council on Foundations, a nonprofit membership association. “I learned the basic protocols, which dovetailed with my background in social services.” She also set up learning sessions with other foundation owners, worked with consultants and tagged along on some field visits, including, says Gruber, an inspiring and enlightening trip with global financier and philanthropist George Soros to a remote part of Hungary where he was then funding a school for girls.

The couple always had in mind a mission of rewarding excellence and encouraging research. So rather than making grants, they award unrestricted cash prizes of $500,000 each to young scientists in fields such as cosmology, genetics and neuroscience — “areas the Nobels don’t fund,” says Gruber. To stay sharp, the foundation, with roughly $100 million in assets, partners with top-level scientific societies and relies on a panel of international advisers.

The Grubers also award prizes for social justice and women’s rights, sometimes combining their two interests. “There have been only about a dozen women who’ve won science Nobels,” says Gruber. Working to change that ratio, the foundation funds a career development award of $75,000 over three years to a young woman geneticist from anywhere in the world. “The perception of the scientific community is that there’s no big cadre of women marching forward in the sciences,” says Gruber. Yet judges at the American Society of Human Genetics, which administers the award, were floored by the response. “They received more than 200 applications from highly qualified young women for the one position. They had no idea there were so many gifted women out there.”

For Pat Gruber, life continues to change.

Reviewing requests

When applications for funding come in to her family foundation, Pat Gruber replies with a simple form that asks for:

• Evidence of tax-exempt status, such as 501(c)3 incorporation

• A copy of the organization’s most recent budget, including staff costs — with a promise that this will be kept confidential

• Specifics of how the donation will be spent, including how many individuals served and amounts needed for specific items