Our Fundraising Search founder, Linda Wise McNay and I have been colleagues for ten years, although she says the experience has seemed much, much longer. In fact, when I retired from corporate life, Linda played a big role in recruiting me into the nonprofit sector even though, at the time, other nonprofit leaders were skeptical of anyone with a corporate background. Yet, even though we’ve known each other for quite some time, it wasn’t until we sat down to discuss a blog for Women’s History Month that she told me about her career trajectory.
If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you are female. According to “The White House Project: Benchmarking Women in Leadership” report, women make up 75% of the nonprofit sector labor force. And yet, just 40 years ago, when Linda got her first fundraising job at Transylvania University, she was the first woman to work in the Development Department.
Linda recalls, “At that time, fundraising was seen as a man’s profession. There was a lot of skepticism that women could do the job. In fact, over the course of my entire career, I’ve never worked for a woman. There were simply none in front of me.”
Today, more than 80% of fundraisers are women. In fact, all the best fundraisers I have worked with are women, so the idea that the profession could shift so much in a single generation surprised me. “In some cases, men thought women could not be confidential,” Linda says. “There was also a stereotypical misconception that men were more generous than women. When I worked at Georgia Tech, I observed that the largely male alumni might gift a million dollars to the school while their female spouses might gift $1,000 to their alma maters.”
The biggest shift over that period however has not been in generosity, but in wage gains and the resulting financial independence of women. According to “Women and Million Dollar Giving: Current Landscape and Trends to Watch” report, in 2019 women controlled $14 trillion or 51% of total wealth in the United States. Moreover, 45% of U.S. millionaires are women and 40% of U.S. households have a woman as the sole or primary breadwinner.
“The largest gift I ever received in my career, eight figures, came from a woman,” Linda observes. “At its foundation, fundraising is about relationship building and maintaining. Those have always been treated as stereotypically female attributes. However, strategy and generosity know no gender. The shift in the demographics of the profession were helped by the fact that nonprofits were often more likely to hire women, perhaps because they could pay them less.”
While the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, it is also our belief that the women in the nonprofit sector will play an outsized role in leading the recovery from it. Women in the nonprofit sector are inspired by helping others solve problems. Similarly, the smartest nonprofits understand and tailor their solicitations to the donor, and avoid assuming that a certain demographic will be penning the check.