Investing in women is one of the smartest ways to reduce poverty and improve return on invested philanthropic dollars. This news is starting to make its way into the mainstream. As nonprofits recognize that the idea of investing in women resonates with donors -- especially the multitude of female donors who, because of demographic changes, will be making many if not most of the donations in the near future -- some interesting things are starting to happen:
1. There are a lot of new organizations starting up who focus on women. That's a good thing.
2. There are a lot of established organizations that are shifting their strategies to better engage women. That is also a good thing.
3. There are a lot of established organizations who have absolutely no intention of investing in women but every intention of trying to get you to believe that they invest in women by utilizing clever marketing schemes. That is a bad thing.
In this time of uncertainty, where beloved, high profile organizations are being accused of misleading their donors and mismanaging funds, every leader of every nonprofit has an obligation to ensure that their organization is being forthcoming about what money is going where, for what purpose and ensuring that the money is well spent.
As the attention continues to increasingly focus on the benefits of engaging women in development and environmental efforts, investment for women will continue to grow. And where there is money, there are expert fundraisers armed with spin and great anecdotes. Nonprofits that encourage this approach need to recognize that such a strategy is short sighted, dishonest, and, most importantly, it can actually undermine the condition of the women that the rest of us are trying to improve.
How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Here are a couple of quick tests you can try. If you are responding to a Mother's Day campaign and want to see if the organization is on the up and up, go to their website and search the word "women." Do the results return real stories, from the ground, of women's lives being improved because of investments made by that organization? Or are they attempts to insert the word 'women' in any way the organization can to get your attention? If an organization has a 200 page website and women are only mentioned a couple of times, I can tell you with a reasonable amount of certainty, women are not a priority for that organization.
Or try this: call up the Director of Fundraising and ask for examples of three programs where women have benefited from investment. If they have to "get back to you" then it isn't an institutional priority.
Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great organizations doing great things for women. Some of our favorites are: Women's Earth Alliance, a small group based out of Berkeley training women in developing countries on really important skills to improve the way they manage natural resources; ManUP! a group based in NYC helping people around the world, especially men, understand that when gender based violence happens, it impacts not just the woman, but entire communities; Heifer International, working with communities to end poverty and hunger, with many programs focused on women; Vital Voices, that has been working diligently to ensure that women are represented at all levels of government, all over the world; And the International Center for Research on Women, that is working to ensure that women are integral to poverty alleviation efforts.
I would be remiss in not mentioning our own organization New Course in that mix. But how do you know that we aren't one of those groups chasing the funds? Call us, and ask. We can walk you through as many stories of how our work benefits women as you have time to listen to. I am sure all of the organizations listed here can as well.
Here is the take away. I have worked on $20 million dollar donations and I have worked with $25 donations. They have this in common: they are both capable of saving lives, improving the world, making a difference. Just make sure that your investment, no matter how big or small, is making the difference that you intended it to make. If the difference you want to make is to improve the lives of women and the communities they support, then make sure you are getting the real deal.