By Rebecca Russell Sykes ’67
Did you know that women’s philanthropy in the U.S. has created broad and deep societal change? Some scholars believe that, without women’s interest in improving life for all, the American experiment might not have gone so well. I want to share some of this story with you, as well as tell you about some of the exciting things that women philanthropists are doing now, in hopes of inspiring and encouraging you in your own giving.
American women have always been involved in philanthropy and social change. Their work has supported a maximization of human capital assets—a powerful force for wealth creation. They have innately understood the importance of HOPE in nourishing a healthy democracy—the hope of an education and of upward mobility. Women’s generosity enabled progress long before standard social and political institutions grasped the value of these programs. Some examples:
- In 1643, Anne Radcliffe gave money for a scholarship for low-income men to Harvard (Harvard admitted only men then);
- Rebecca Gratz, a Jewish philanthropist, set up the Female Association for Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances in 1801;
- Mary Elizabeth Lange, a Haitian woman, became a nurse and started Catholic schools for black children in 1827.
- After the Civil War, “women’s exchanges” were started in the South to provide widows a way to use their sewing and dressmaking skills to support their families. One continues to this day in Dallas—the St. Michael’s Women’s Exchange.
- In 1884, Mary Garrett gave money to Johns Hopkins Medical School with the restriction that it allow women to enroll.
- Jane Addams started Hull House in Chicago in 1889. (A famous Addams quote: “I do not believe that women are better than men. We have not wrecked railroads, nor corrupted legislatures, nor done many unholy things that men have done; but then we must remember that we have not had the chance.”)
- In 1911, Caroline Phelps-Stokes began what came to be the United Negro College Fund.
- In the 1950s, American mothers started the March of Dimes; in the 1970’s Candy Lightner started Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Dallas’ own Nancy Brinker started the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 1985 to fight breast cancer after her sister died from the disease.
- Women worked to get child labor outlawed and to get the vote (which took 70 years). They gave money, but they mostly gave time and energy, with a few exceptions. Most wealthy women continued to fund the arts, the hospitals, and the universities begun by their fathers; few funded the women’s suffrage movement.
At the end of the second wave of the women’s movement, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, women finally began talking about investing their money in those causes they cared about, many of which were women’s and children’s issues. As women began earning more money and inheriting more money, the women’s funding movement was born and has produced, to date, 200 women’s foundations around the world. The Dallas Women’s Foundation is one of the oldest and the second largest of these funds, which collectively give more than $50 million a year in local grants and hold assets of more than $500 million.
Seven years ago, Dallas Women’s Foundation leaders envisioned exponential growth and undertook a $30 million campaign. We had no idea if we would succeed. At the same time, one of our founders, Helen LaKelly Hunt, and her sister Swanee began wondering why women’s funds had few large gifts from wealthy women. They began a program called “Women Moving Millions” that honored women who gave $1 million or more to their local women’s foundations. More than 200 women have joined this circle, and they have raised more than $200 million dollars. The Dallas Women’s Foundation had only one million dollar donor then; now we have 27 of them!
We have just finished our campaign and have raised $35 million PLUS $30 million in planned gifts! We have more than doubled our grant making—to more than $2 million this year; we began a robust research program and enhanced our philanthropy education for women, empowering them to make serious investments in the things they care about—to link their values with their giving. We had the privilege of watching serious women philanthropists come into their own in their giving.
We learned that (1) we needed to have a compelling vision for the future and communicate it simply, and (2) we needed to ASK for what was needed to accomplish that vision and to change the lives of women and girls—whether givers or receivers—in the process.
Several year ago, a survey in the Dallas area revealed that there were 36,000 “millionaires” here (investable assets of $1 million or more, not counting their homes). I’m sure the recession has knocked a few of them off the list, but still—imagine! Who knew! And we know that women now control, at least on paper, more than half of the wealth in the country. My point is that there is an abundance of resources around us and within us. Women’s philanthropy has the power to change the social system. Human and social values are women’s concerns. We must develop an adequate social system, designed to sustain democratic principles and capital markets, resulting in an ever more humane and prosperous American society and economy.
Women are, at last, uniting all of their resources behind a resolution of societal issues, determining the outcome of the 21st century. Women understand that we are all co-dependent; that what occurs in one block, one community, city, state, or nation affects what happens in the world. And power is a word that is now in women’s vocabulary.
One of the things we teach in our “philanthropy retreats” at the women’s foundation is how to create a giving plan that reflects your deepest values. We encourage the participants to look at their “obligatory” or “rote” giving, and to think about how they want to change the world. Then we encourage them to concentrate their giving—whatever the level—on those causes. The idea is that, at the end of the year, when you are preparing your income tax return, you see that you have actually moved the needle on a few things, rather than dribbling out your giving over way too many causes, often with little effect.
I want to invite you to participate in this “power alley” of women’s giving strength by considering a gift to support the extraordinary work of Austin College. As a new trustee, I am constantly amazed at the changes here and the exceptional students the College attracts. The face of the campus is changing in every way! Did you know that a third of the students represent racial/ethnic minorities—many of them first-generation college students? This is the highest percentage of any Texas private college! More and more students are transferring in from community colleges to complete their degrees at Austin College. I know one such young man, who excelled in high school and at a community college in the sciences and German and is now enjoying the internships and special access Austin College provides to its pre-med students (80% of whom are admitted into medical school). I also think of another graduate, a Vietnamese woman, who is now a physician building special diabetes care clinics in rural areas of Texas, saving lives and limbs.
Austin College has built new student housing on Grand Avenue and on Brockett Street, and is raising money right now to build a new science building, called the IDEA Center, which will house the most advanced labs and learning facilities for not only those interested in the medical sciences, but those business majors who are interested in medical entrepreneurship, taking medical research to markets. It will be a “green” building. We still need to raise about $10 million for this important addition to the campus. Please think about making a special gift to this effort! For a mere $5 million, you can even name the building after yourself or someone you love! Gifts of ANY size are needed and most welcome.
The old nursery rhyme tells us, “The king was in his counting house, counting out his money; the queen was in the parlor, eating bread and honey.” Now the queen also is in the counting house, giving away the money on her own or with the king, and she shares the parlor with him as they eat bread and honey while making this a land of “all good things” as the Old Testament says.
I deeply admire the Jewish demand for Tzedakah—giving—with its insistence that the giving must always be done “with a blessing.” What happens every time is that the giver is the one most blessed by the joy of her generosity.
Thank you for your continued interest in and support for Austin College. This historic institution (whose first philanthropic gift was from a woman—Emily Austin) is preparing future leaders for our world—the best way I know to ensure peace, justice, sustainability, and equality for all, values we all share. When you think about connecting your deepest values to your giving, please make Austin College part of your philanthropy.