It took women 70 years to finally gain the right to vote, but it would have only taken 10 if philanthropist and author Helen LaKelly Hunt had anything to say about it.
What struck Hunt, who is the founder and president of The Sister Fund, a private women’s fund dedicated to the empowerment of women and girls, and the co-founder, with her sister Swanee Hunt, of Women Moving Millions, was that very few affluent women funded suffrage, while many were generous givers to universities, churches and boys schools.
While women’s funding is not a new phenomenon, what is happening for the first time ever is that women are funding other women. Big time. In fact when the Hunt sisters teamed up with the Women’s Funding Network to create the Women Moving Millions campaign to inspire charitable gifts of one million dollars and above, their goal was to raise $150 million. Despite the economic pain of the last several years they raked in over $181 million from over 100 women and 41 women’s funds.
“Women funding women is a new consciousness that has never happened in the history of the world,” said Hunt in a phone interview. “To have women funding their own voice and their own agency and their own culture is a galvanizing idea that makes other women say, ‘we don’t want to sit on the sidelines like we did during suffrage. We want to take up this banner and march with it.’”
With 61% of wealth now in the hands of women, this is an important moment for financial advisors and planners to take note of as more high net worth women look for advice around how to give, whom to give to, and how best to create legacies they can be proud of.
Lauren Embrey, one of the leaders of Women Moving Millions and president of The Embrey Family Foundation, said that women philanthropists want “our dollars tied up with our values and mission.”
Right now Embrey sees a gap in knowledge and research among advisors about companies and funds that invest in women and girls. The Embrey Family Foundation, which is located in Dallas, has been donating to diverse causes from a human rights education program at a catholic preparatory school to a program to combat sex trafficking in the United States to a women’s mentoring program for women from conflict zones.
“There’s a lack of advisors that really understand what we want to do and are able to help us direct our investments,” Embrey explained.
While Women Moving Millions has opened its office door to women donors and others looking for a community of women to answer their investing and charitable giving questions, women will be turning more and more to the advisor they know and trust for help with their decision making. A survey released last month entitled Northstar/Sullivan Rebuilding Investor Trust Survey revealed that 89% of wealthy individuals surveyed who had an advisor when the market downturn began are still working with that same advisor, and 20% said that they are relying on their advisor even more than before. Additionally, 61% said that they have a high level of trust in their primary financial advisor.
Part of what’s driving the trend toward affluent women and charitable giving is that with women moving into the business world, words like money and power have lost their mystique. “In the past women had been in awe of money and financial analysis, but now women are shaping their financial destinies,” Hunt said. When Hunt was young, “’money’ was a taboo word. It is so ironic that although I’m from a family of wealth, for many years I felt a disconnect between myself and my net worth. Why? I was taught to view “money” as part of the ‘man’s realm.’”
Cynthia A. Conway, vice president and director of marketing at Wilmington Trust Corporation, points to a study Wilmington Trust completed with Campden Research and Relative Solutions, which surveyed ultra high net worth women between 45 and 65 who had at least $25 million in investible assets and had children. Conway sees three driving forces behind the trend in affluent women and charitable giving: women are now being included in inheritances, not just brothers and husbands; women outlive their husbands by about seven years; and women are earning their own wealth.
One of the key findings of the study was that women wanted to pass along their values about money, their strong work ethic, and their sense of responsibility to their family and community, to their children. Women now not only have a seat at the table, but they have a voice at the table as well. “Because all these women grew up through this transition of moving from clearly defined gender roles to ones more shared in society, they wanted to lift the veil of secrecy that exists around wealth and educate their children about managing wealth,” said Conway.
More and more women are looking at money as a tool to enable their families to live their dreams and passions – both personally and philanthropically. “The women we talk to don’t want their children to be spoiled by affluence,” Conway said. “They want to preserve wealth beyond their generation.”
Carol Kroch, Vice President and Managing Director Head of Wealth and Financial Planning at Wilmington Trust, said that some of the questions that affluent women want help answering from their advisors, include: How do I want to provide for my family’s future? What portion of my wealth do I want to give to charity? Do I want to be actively engaged with the organizations I give to? Or be more of a passive donor? Do I want to start a family foundation during my lifetime that will carry on my vision after I die?
One of Katie Nixon’s clients has tried to pass down her beliefs about philanthropy to her grandchildren by gathering them once a year and giving them each a chance to donate to a charity of their choice, which they have researched. Nixon, who is the chief investment officer for Northern Trust’s Northeast region, said that this is a good way for her client’s grandchildren to engage with their own passions, which are not necessarily aligned with her own.
“It’s a self-reinforcing mechanism,” Nixon said. “The more women who are exposed to women doing interesting, innovative things with their money, they will in turn want to use the power of their own purse.”
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