“We’ve heard about all these major investments but we need to see if they really moved the needle or if they are just keeping up with the overall increase in philanthropy,” Ms. Sager said.
But on a cultural level, according to Ms. Sager, women philanthropists have already changed the way their field operates. Research from the Indiana University institute shows that female philanthropists tend to be more focused on forging relationships with their grantees and amplifying the voices of those closest to inequities and social issues.
“Women don’t simply want to write a check,” Ms. Sager said. “The relationship building is important to them. They’re motivated by the stories of the people being served.”
The National Domestic Workers Alliance, a nonprofit which aims to raise labor standards for care workers, is one of the women-led organizations that has benefited from this model of philanthropy, which centers relationships with grassroots communities.
In 2006, the group’s founder, Ai-jen Poo, approached The New York Women’s Foundation with a plan to organize a movement of nannies, housekeepers, home health aides and other domestic workers across the U.S. To some other funders, the idea had seemed preposterous; Ms. Poo was warned that the people she was trying to organize weren’t laborers united on a factory floor, they were dispersed across different sectors and communities. But funders at The New York Women’s Foundation, after deep conversation with Ms. Poo, decided to place a bet of roughly $30,000 on her vision.
More than a decade later, Ms. Poo’s organization has ballooned to over 70 local affiliates and 250,000 members of an online community. It recently won $10 million from Ms. Scott and Ms. French Gates’s Equality Can’t Wait Challenge. Its success, according to Ana Oliveira, president of The New York Women’s Foundation, is a testament to the work of philanthropists who amplify the voices of women, especially those most affected by injustice.
“Women’s foundations are very close to the people we support,” Ms. Oliveira said. “That’s how we mitigate risk — by listening. We don’t just issue a grant and say ‘See you in a year.’”