Over the weekend, it came to my attention that October is National Women’s Small Business Month. This was initiated by the Small Business Administration to celebrate women-owned businesses and their lasting impact on the economy.

Now, I know we serve nonprofits and, even though nonprofits are 70% women led, you are probably wondering what the relationship is between these two concepts. My premise: there is a natural – and under-explored – synergy between women-owned small businesses and nonprofits. 

From the SBA:

“In 1972, there were a little over 400,000 women-owned businesses in the United States. Until 1988, women needed a male relative to co-sign if they wanted to apply for a business loan. That same year, the Women’s Business Ownership Act increased SBA’s access to capital to provide financial assistance to organizations geared toward women-owned small businesses. By 2019, women-owned businesses represented 42% of all U.S. businesses and generated $1.9 trillion worth of revenue. Today, there are over 13 million women-owned businesses and counting.”

I frequently find myself explaining the financial size and spending power of the nonprofit sector to male-run businesses and journalists who had never thought about it before. They simply overlook the sector. Similarly, the women-owned business sector frequently flies under the radar screen, even after some of them grow into big businesses. An example: did you know that the Panda Restaurant Group, the umbrella corporation that owns Panda Express, is a women-owned business? 

In April of this year, Investopedia published a list of 10 Women-Owned Companies You Should Know. Read it. 

Women-owned businesses face many of the same challenges as nonprofits: not taken seriously enough; seen as “lesser” businesses, etc. Candidly, I think the nonprofit sector is just as guilty of that lack of regard for women-owned businesses. 

Every month I find myself explaining to some board member that only 6 cents of every philanthropic dollar in the US comes from corporations and that, no, Coke and Delta and BMW and SC Johnson do not, in fact, have rooms full of money “just waiting for someone to come ask them for it.”

(Seriously. I have had that latter conversation on more than one occasion.) 

Here’s my premise in writing this: rather than sit around lamenting that big corporations are not supporting your golf tournament or gala, try cultivating some of the smaller, women-owned businesses in your area. They may not be the source of big sponsorships, yet. But, as fundraisers, we’re in the relationship business. We play the long game.

Lastly, I would be remiss without specifically acknowledging and thanking the three women entrepreneurs I get the privilege to work with every day: Linda Wise McNay, Ailena Gibby Parramore, and Jenneh Scott. What makes working with my colleagues amazing is that they generally don’t think about being amazing. They just roll up their sleeves and get things done. 

To quote Ursula K. LeGuin, “The future is female.”


  • D.M. Paule

    Dave Paule is an experienced chief executive officer, fundraiser, marketer, writer and educator. He specializes in jumpstarting stagnant operations, global business turn-arounds, and building green-field organizations. Dave is Principal & Managing Director at Our Fundraising Search and is a member of the faculty of Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson School of Business.