Giving Generously


The Female Factor

In writing an article on philanthropy, I thought it best to assess what motivates me personally to use my limited time and resources in support of non-profits. For what sort of an advocate would I be, if I talked about giving back but failed to “walk the walk” alongside wonderful organizations that need and deserve significant financial aid? There are terrific non-profits that do critical work and need assistance from us. Here are just a few that I consistently, and at times generously, support that match my personal philosophy.

As a long-time passionate advocate and supporter of groups that focus on civil rights, equal rights, human rights, women’s rights, equal pay, reproductive rights, affirmative action and social justice issues, here’s a partial list of recipients (in alphabetical order): Chicago Abortion FundChicago Foundation for WomenGirl ScoutsJewish Women’s FoundationMujeres Latinas en AccionPlanned ParenthoodToday’s Chicago Woman FoundationWomen EmployedWomen for Women International and YWCA.

I list these organizations to encourage Chicago women to examine what’s meaningful and important to them and to become more generous, more philanthropic. Our city is blessed with a multitude of women whose personal values convert to public action and philanthropy. They include: women’s historian and lifelong social justice advocate Jean Hunt; artist, poet and activist Bette Cerf Hill; women of religion who’ve given much of their lives to human and women’s rights like Sister Patricia Crowley, Sister Sheila Lyne, Reverend Patricia Novick and Reverend Willie Barrow; international disability rights leader Marca Bristo; housing advocates like Aurie Pennick, Sunny Fischer and Julia Stasch; and political advocates such as Lisa Madigan, Jan Schakowsky, Heather Steans, Sara Feigenholtz, Judy Baar Topinka, Toni Preckwinkle and Anita Alvarez among others.

However, our gender’s history has a dismal record when it comes to supporting organizations whose goals are to lift up women and girls. According to a recent article by Helen LaKelly Hunt, “Few women of wealth funded the woman suffrage movement. Deeply committed to the cause, women of lesser means gave blood, sweat and tears: they petitioned, were dragged to prison, suffered hunger strikes and were force-fed.”

Fortunately, this picture is changing. Women Moving Millions encourages women of means to break free of their “golden handcuffs” and help “catapult women’s funding into the stratosphere.” As we do so, perhaps a reassessment of the list of organizations that benefit from your money and time is in order.

And while we’re investigating the non-profits we support – and I sincerely hope you do your homework and examine their 990 forms to learn what percentage of their budget goes to programming and what percentage to marketing and fundraising – I also encourage you to find out who sits on the boards of your favored non-profits. How many women? How many people of color? Do they have policies committed to diversity of boards, officers, employees and purchasing?

Of course these are questions that are important to me. Perhaps your criteria are different. Take the time to identify what’s important to you, and certify the fortunate organizations opening your envelopes and utilizing your talents match your values.

There’s also a benefit to your involvement of time. Along with donating what you can afford to non-profit groups whose mission is meaningful to you, your family and your community, consider volunteering to serve on a board. Not only will you see up close how your funds are spent and how decisions are made, but you’ll have an opportunity to network and meet others who could possibly be referral sources or even clients of your business. Self-serving, perhaps. Savvy, definitely.

Bottom line – think before you contribute your time and precious resources, and then give generously!


About Hedy M. Ratner

Hedy M. Ratner is founder and co-president of the Women's Business Development Center, the largest, oldest and most comprehensive and successful women's business assistance center in the U.S. She blogs about entrepreneurship, working women, success stories, small business and more in “Windows to Business Success.”