By Jamie Allen Black and Rachel Siegel
We at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) were impressed with Lisa Eisen’s recent article about women changing the face of Jewish philanthropy, and we want to expand the conversation based on our experience working in partnership with Jewish women philanthropists. While we greatly respect the ever-growing list of impressive women philanthropists, we believe it is of equal value to discuss what the money is being used for. Even with women at the helm of giving, as Eisen suggests, their philanthropic dollars are not being designated to serve women and girls. According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, only 44 percent of women philanthropists give to causes that directly affect women and girls. While statistics specific to Jewish women’s philanthropic decisions are not easily accessible, it is a reasonable assumption that only a portion of that 44 percent goes to causes that target Jewish women’s issues.
And there are plenty of causes to choose from. Women make up more than half of the world’s population but continue to be oppressed and underrepresented. According to the National Women’s Law Center, in 2014 the poverty rate among women was 14.7 percent, compared to 10.9 percent for men. In addition, women continue to receive unequal pay for equal work, are victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking, and the majority are not able to take paid time off to care for a new baby or sick family member. If Jewish women philanthropists were to donate to causes that support women and girls at the same level they support hospitals and colleges, there would be a huge change in the community.
Eisen’s assessment on how women give is consistent with our understanding of women’s philanthropy. As Eisen mentions, the growth of Jewish Women’s Funds around the country is a testament to the desire of women to work together to shepherd community dollars. As Eisen mentions, “hands-on” giving, collaborative giving, and transformative giving are essential for women philanthopists. For 21 years, JWFNY has given our members the opportunity to do exactly that.
From our experience, it is not just Jewish women who are major donors changing the field of philanthropy. We find that the cumulative impact of small gifts can also be quite powerful. Our members donate a minimum gift of $2,500 and their gift is magnified over 200 times, making their impact much larger than their individual gift. Each year, this translates to over $500,000 in grants to organizations in New York, Israel, and around the world working to improve the lives of women and girls.
At JWFNY, all grantmaking is done through a gender and Jewish lens. Granting through a gender lens gives funders the opportunity to see prospective grantees through an inclusive perspective. When women give “through a gender lens” they are not necessarily giving just to women and/or girls – they are addressing needs based on an understanding of the complex experiences related to a person’s gender identity. There is no single gender lens; gender lens by definition is inclusive. We encourage all donors to use a gender lens in their philanthropy, regardless of whether the donor is giving to causes that support women and girls specifically. By using a gender lens, donors view problems from diverse perspectives and help institutions create programs that meet the needs of their target population.
One major reason to support women and girls through philanthropy is that many women (especially young women) are acting as agents of social change. These women have a fierce compassion that enables them to go beyond raging at inequity; they are actively engaged in changing the circumstances of the most vulnerable populations. Jewish women social entrepreneurs, whom we support through our international giving circle, strive to right the wrongs they see in the world. These women work collectively with other entrepreneurs, local stakeholders, and diverse funders, to take on roles and responsibilities that traditionally have been left, albeit poorly, to local and national governments. They are taking the action needed to transform the world.
We are thrilled that more women are giving than ever before and we see that those increases will continue both as wealth inheritors come into their own and as women successful in their profitable endeavors develop their philanthropic voices. In a 2014 interview with Forbes, Women Moving Millions co-chair Jacquelyn Zehner said that women as donors hold the key to unlocking potential, especially that of women and girls, around the world. Jewish women and girls need our support. We believe that all women have the potential to change the face of philanthropy and the lives of women and girls around the world. Women giving through the Jewish community, according to their values and their capacity, will turn the tide for giving in the area of women and girls.
Jamie Allen Black is the Executive Director and Rachel Siegel is the Program Manager at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.