Philanthropy isn’t just for the wealthy

In the fourth of our series on the Passion and Science of Giving, Jacki Zehner explains how she chooses which organisations to support and how giving in any form can have an impact.

"I always ask any NGO I support this question: what is their theory of change?"
Jacki Zehner, President, Women Moving Millions

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Jacki Zehner was the youngest woman and first ever female trader appointed partner at Goldman Sachs. She is currently the President and Chief Engagement Officer of Women Moving Millions, a non-profit organisation dedicated to mobilising unprecedented resources for women and girls.

Nicole Franklin: Jacki, thank you for joining us at BlueNotes. You have written recently on how much money could be raised if more people in the US engaged in philanthropy. What do you think currently holds individuals back?

Jacki Zehner: Let me say upfront, Americans in general are very generous. The most generous in the world when it comes to charitable giving. Total philanthropy in the US has averaged around 2 per cent of GDP for a very long time. That is a lot of money. That said not everyone gives and many people give well under their capacity over their lifetime, giving most of it away when they pass.

I think there are a lot of reasons people choose not to give, including not feeling like one has excess money, not believing those dollars will be well used, not being connected to a particular cause or issue, and many more.

Philanthropy is a very personal process and more importantly, philanthropy is so much more than writing a cheque. Worldwide, there are millions of charities and thousands of good causes worth supporting. For many people, the initial engagement in philanthropy can be overwhelming simply due to the sheer volume of options out there and therefore it is important to really think about the causes that are most important to you and to take the time to research the best organisations that address these issues.

NF: Is there enough information available for individuals to make informed philanthropic decisions? How do you choose which organisations to support?

JZ: My focus is on girls and women and thankfully there is a mountain of research and evidence pertaining to the impact of investing in women and girls and the multiplier effect this targeted strategy can have on the world at large. Women Moving Millions recently put together a list of the Top 100 reports but there are countless others on dozens of topics and more are released every month. Once you have an issue at the macro level you are focused on, the more challenging part can be finding the organisation that you believe will have positive impact.

I always ask any NGO I support this question: what is their theory of change? In other words, what are the specific interventions that bring about a specified outcome(s)? Better yet if they have evidence that in fact what they are doing has had impact. Sometimes that comes in the way of hard data, sometimes in the form of stories and sometimes it is too early to tell. It is impossible to create standard evaluation criteria that will apply to all NGOs. It is great that there are tools like Charity Navigator out there but I tend to have a more personal relationship.

NF: You have a background in trading which is heavily measured and analysed for success - how have you found working in the not for profit sphere? Do you feel an increasing degree of rigour is being applied in the not for profit sector? Is it changing?

JZ: More and more, especially in the United States, there has been a focus on impact philanthropy, wherein donors want to see the results and the impact of their gifts. This trend is both good and bad. When donors demand to see results, this creates more accountability and better performance measurement systems. However, donors can have the tendency to focus on short-term results, not understanding that long-term sustainable social change often takes years, if not decades, to achieve. Demanding accountability is not in of itself a bad thing but often patience is required when carrying out programs and interventions. I hope there is a trend back towards providing core operating support for organisations. We underinvest in the leadership and the staff needed to get the work done.

NF: You speak of using your ‘time, treasure and talent’ to have an impact. Can you take us through what you mean by this? Is there a combination you find is most effective?

JZ: At Women Moving Millions we initiated a call to action named All In For Her. It is in effect a model for effective giving! We are inviting both women and men to do the following 1) Give Big – whatever that level is for you. 2) Be Bold – this is not just about money, it is about you. Be visible with your gift and commit other resources as well. 3) Collaborate – so much more can be accomplished when we do things together and it is a lot more fun. 4) Employ a Gender Lens – a relatively small percentage of overall philanthropic giving goes specifically to girls and women, relative to the need. You will have greater impact if you think about who specifically you are trying to serve. Taken together this is incredibly powerful.

One of my favourite quotes is “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I love this quote because it reminds us all that even if we do not have a lot of extra disposable income, we have so many other things to offer.

NF: Are there characteristics particular to women that discourage philanthropy?

JZ: Women are actually more philanthropic than men. Not only do they give more money but they volunteer more as well. That said, there has long been a culture of giving anonymously, quietly, or under your husband’s name among women philanthropists but thankfully this trend is changing. At Women Moving Millions, we advocate giving Big and Bold, meaning stretching your giving capacity to its fullest but more importantly, naming your gifts. This can lead to increased attention for the organisation but even better, this can often inspire other donors to come forward. There is a great study showing that women who are part of giving groups or networks not only give more but feel that their gift has greater impact. And they are happier! It’s not surprising that one of the biggest trends in philanthropy is the emergence of women’s giving circles.

NF: Do you think the impact of increased philanthropy from women will be different in any way to the current form of engagement by men?

JZ: I think it will be. There was a great book written recently called The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and men who think like them) Will Rule the Future. They identify a list of leadership characteristics and classify them as masculine or feminine. Their hypothesis is that the more feminine characteristics like collaboration, nurturing, flexibility and cooperation are the ones needed in our modern world. I could not agree more. As women step in to their power, their philanthropic power, I think you will see a lot more of this playing out.

The problems we face in the world are complex and the way we will get to solutions is through partnerships and collaborations. Additionally I feel too much of philanthropy has been top down with a ‘we can solve your problems’ kind of approach. It is time to practice deeper listening to those we are trying to help. Of course both men and women can take this approach but my instincts tell me women are more likely to.

NF: If individuals care about a particular issue – should they focus on that directly or give generally to ensure their contributions touch all of the related causes?

JZ: I think it is both. For some people what makes sense for them is to fund one issue area that is particularly near and dear to them. Perhaps they want to become an expert in an area and in so doing become amazing champions for their partner organisations. For others they see that violence is connected to poverty, is connected to health issues, is connected to a lack of education and access to capital. For them taking a holistic approach makes sense. Thankfully there are organisations that can do both. For example I fund the Global Fund for Women because not only do they fund organisations that work in many different areas but also in many different geographies - and always with a rights based approach. I could never identify the partners they have on my own but in giving to them I know I am supporting the global women’s movement.

NF: Which organisations do you believe are making the greatest headway in female empowerment today?

JZ: There are so many incredible organisations working for the advancement of women and girls. When it comes to deciding which ones to support, I often look at the leadership of the organisations because if I am not fully confident in who is in charge, I will never be able to fully trust them to spend my money to its fullest potential. The following list is just a sample of the incredible organisations and their leaders that I support:

1) Tostan – Molly Melching; Non-profit organisation based in Senegal that focuses on community empowerment through education and works to end the practice of female genital cutting.

2) Women’s Media Center – Julie Burton; Non-profit organisation based in New York City that works as an awareness, advocacy and educational institution focusing on gender discrimination and sexism in the media.

3) International Women’s Health Coalition – Francoise Girard; Non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive rights for women and girls around the world.

4) Global Fund for Women – Musimbi Kanyoro; A grant making fund dedicated to providing resources to organisations that empower women and girls worldwide.

5) Girl Educational & Mentoring Service – Rachel Lloyd; Non-profit organisation dedicated to combating sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of young girls.

6) Women Thrive Worldwide – Ritu Sharma; An advocacy group that works in Washington DC to ensure that women's rights and concerns are at the forefront of US International Aid policies.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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