Last week in Chicago, women came together to celebrate and expand their leadership roles in the philanthropic sector; it’s well-known ground, as women drive a tremendous amount of our country’s charitable activity. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, women make the majority of household decisions about giving. And through organizations like Women Moving Millions, Women’s Funding Network, and Women Donors Network, they’re devoting millions annually to improve the lives of women and girls.
Jacki Zehner, CEO of Women Moving Millions and a self-described “joiner,” made a powerful case for women to do more – and together. Working collaboratively, individuals and organizations can broaden reach and impact; and women in particular prefer a collective approach. Research shows that working in groups activates the release of oxytocin in women’s brains, making them happier.
Perhaps this explains why women are more collaborative than men not only in philanthropy, but also in politics. Women legislators sponsor and co-sponsor more legislation than their male counterparts. In a political climate that many consider toxic and utterly unproductive, women in Washington are the silver lining. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) led a group of disproportionately female colleagues in negotiating an end to last year’s government shutdown. Congresswomen Jackie Walorski (R-IN) and Annie Kuster (D-NH), two legislators with significantly different political orientations, collaborated during their first year in office to strengthen whistleblower protections for service members who report sexual assault.
Despite the impact of their political camaraderie, women politicians fail to inspire other women’s financial engagement. Vote with Your Purse, a biannual study by She Should Run, reveals that in the last major election (2012 presidential) women accounted for barely a quarter of all political donations. Perhaps not surprisingly, female politicians hold less than 25 percent of all state and national seats.
Of course, women candidates need – and do receive – support from male donors, and women donors also give to male candidates. It’s not a far leap to imagine, however, that greater political giving by women would benefit women’s political leadership. I’ve heard numerous variations on the call for greater investment in women by women – pass on the new purse, add to a political candidate’s purse strings instead. Others play to the millennial generation’s proclivity for online engagement, trying to build a political giving habit one $3 donation at a time.
The larger challenge is not how to generate financial support for female candidates and elected leaders; it’s why. She Should Run posits that “women do not connect political leadership with positive, productive social change or view political giving as a civic responsibility.” Recent Supreme Court decisions – and the charged conversations surrounding them – have only furthered the pernicious reputation of money in politics. But becoming political donors can empower women, raising many voices together just as in philanthropy, leading to substantive change through support for candidates who represent our values and understand our experiences.
Those of us who work every day for women’s political advancement see the same faces at fundraisers. We can change that. Let’s share our passion for politics, helping others see the opportunity that women leaders represent. We must make political giving a habit and inspire this practice among family and friends. When women give, women win.
What do you think? Let us know: @marnideb @PoliticalParity on Twitter