Michigan Women's Foundation, 17177 North Laurel Park Dr., Suite 445, Livonia, MI 48152
telephone: (734) 542-3946; fax: (734) 542-3952; http://comnet.org/mwf
Center for Women, 25 Sheldon Blvd., SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503
telephone: (616) 742-2389; fax: (616) 459-8460

Michigan Women's Foundation
Women's Road Map
MWF's Management Assistance Newsletter
January/February 1996

Women as Donors...

This speech was written in 1994 by Susan Church, our former Executive Director, and delivered to an audience of fundraisers. The issues that she raised were honest, and critical for all of us to remember as we do our work on behalf of Michigan women and girls.

Lots of people are going to talk to you today about your donors or prospective donors and your volunteers. I guess it's great that people have discovered women and I know it's true that it's important for women to use their economic power to advance cases they believe in. So in general I wish you well in your quest to increase both the level of giving by women to your organizations and the number of women donors you attract.

But I can't help worrying about the spirit in which all this is being done. As a woman, as a fund-raiser, as a volunteer and as a donor, there is something that feels a little mercenary to me about this new found enthusiasm about women donors. And I guess it comes from a concern that at least some of the people at this conference are only interested in finding the right words to say or the right combination of cultivation visits and brochures and special events without necessarily having very much real personal or organizational commitment to women's equality.

If you do what I do every day -- raise money for women and men to support programs that help 52% of Michigan's population fulfill our undeserved potential -- you know that there's a lot of ambivalence out there about exactly how equal we are willing to have women be. And I am willing to bet that at least some of that ambivalence is right here in this room.

So what I want to do today is ask those of you who are fund-raisers -- women and men -- to examine with some seriousness where you stand personally on what used to be called the "woman question." Because I think that if you do not understand where you are -- or if where you are is in fact not very supportive of true equality for women -- then you really shouldn't be trying to raise money from women at all. Besides the fact that it's not a very good thing to be a sexist either in your belief or in your behavior, fundraising that isn't founded in genuine respect for women and girls isn't ultimately going to work very well.

I don't say this because I think that every woman you ask for money will necessarily identify herself as a feminist -- I know that's not true -- but I ask you to think for a moment about how appalling it would be if we were having this conference about raising money from African-Americans, or Latinos, or Jews, or gay and lesbian donors and nobody spent a minute demanding that you look at your own prejudice regarding these groups or trying to help you understand and truly value the people with whom you supposedly want to establish a relationship.

Women aren't stupid and we aren't going to be fooled by hearing you or your institutions simply mouth some buzz words. Your own day to day behavior and your organization's practices are the foundation upon which you are really going to build a relationship over time.

So what do you really think about women? Deep down, do you really think that our principal contribution to society is having and raising babies? If so, it would be a good idea for you to think again. Who is responsible for child care in your house, by the way? Deep down, do you really think that some women invite their own abuse -- or even their own rape? Lots of people do; it would be good if you weren't one of them. Deep down, do you think that assertive men are high achievers and assertive women are kind of bitchy? I'm not telling you to stop saying these things -- for all I know none of these issues ever came up in any conversation you have. I'm asking you to stop believing these things and a host of others that insidiously build your contempt for women. This is a very threatening arena for many people; I am asking you to stop begin afraid of the threat and give your own ideas some earnest examination. I am asking you to think about how you treat the people you work with, how committed you are personally to the advancement of women in your own organizations and in the fundraising profession generally.

I am asking you to read and learn about how girls and women have been socialized in our society so that you really understand why $25 or $50 seems like a lot of money to women donors. And I am asking you to look at your organization's practices. How many women are in real leadership positions -- volunteer or staff? What are your organization's programs and have you considered whether they welcome or exclude? Job training -- who are your vendors? We all know you'd better not tell racist jokes, what about sexist jokes or remarks? Are you sure you know one when you hear one?

Women donors may never ask you any of these questions, but I don't think that matters. We talk a lot about fund-raisers and stewards of their donor's intentions and their institutions' missions, and I would suggest to you that there is more to good stewardship than simply seeing that the records are honest. We're not just about making our organizations places where people want to give money; we're about making our organizations places where people should want to give money. And part of that is creating a climate of genuine respect for every person with whom we come in contact.

You may think you're doing that and you may indeed be trying. But as a woman and a feminist, I'm here to tell you that a lot of you aren't succeeding.

If women give differently, it is in part because we have been treated differently -- the reason it takes so long to extract money from women is that we haven't been much used to having much power.

Characteristics of an Entrepreneurial Nonprofit

  1. Staff is given responsibility and power to implement decisions
  2. Goals are clear; the ways to meet goals are left to individuals.
  3. All staff staff the organization's vision, goals, philosophy, and style. They trust each other to implement programs.
  4. Criticism is sought - and freely rejected, without penalty.
  5. Staff is ego-healthy, self-confident and able to make decisions quickly. People that lack these attributes don't last long.
  6. Staff enjoy being somewhat overwhelmed; they thrive on internally-created pressure.
  7. There is laughter, rowdiness and other physical outlets for tension -- all evidence of the hard work and expectations below the surface.
  8. Staff meetings are regular, required and democratic. Everyone shares what they are doing, and usually food, as well. The staff takes turns in leading the meetings.
  9. The organization has a strong culture. People fit or they don't. If they don't, they leave quickly.
  10. The organization is predictable in the way people are treated; unpredictable in the new and unusual challenges that lead to quality programs.
  11. The organization is not afraid of tension and conflict, but requires the staff to offer solutions with complaints.
  12. The organization encourages staff to grow, and to leave when their learning curve has leveled off.
  13. Staff are willing to risk and try new things. They are not afraid to fail.
  14. Staff constantly challenge assumptions, asking "Why do we do this?" and "Is there a better way?"
  15. Staff seeks criticism form others whose opinions they trust. they also feel free to "strategically ignore" some of what they hear.
  16. Problems are seen as opportunities.
  17. Staff are passionate about their work and the organization.
  18. The staff believes in the enterprise philosophy.
  19. There is no tolerance for whiners or wimps.
  20. Key staff thinks conceptually and in specifics.
  21. The organization is seen as experimental, constantly evolving and fostering new learning opportunities.
  22. The organization hires specific skills on contract instead of putting people on payroll.
  23. The organization knows their customers very well.
  24. The organization has a bias toward being different -- and better -- than other organizations.
  25. The organization works with clients repeatedly, getting them involved in the organization in a meaningful way.
  26. The organization is pro-active; they go to people with an idea rather than waiting for someone to come to them.
  27. Organization staffers and management are impatient.
  28. They plan ahead and project how each program area will affect the others.
  29. They believe that people work best on their own interests.
  30. Managers do "grunt work" at times, because it builds an egalitarian culture.
  31. All staff - including top managers - work the "front desk" regularly to stay in touch with the customers.
  32. Praise is sincere and free flowing.
  33. There is no apparent physical hierarchy in the offices.
  34. Staff's jobs grow with them. There is no expectation of climbing a job ladder.
  35. Managers hire staff who are smarter than they are, looking at an applicant's qualities more than qualifications.
Lisa Wyatt Knowlton - Adapted from Filthy Rich and Other Nonprofit Fantasies: Changing the Way Nonprofits do Business in the 90s.

Lisa Wyatt Knowlton is principal of Third Sector Strategies, a management and consulting firm specializing in assistance to nonprofit organizations and foundations. For more information contact her at (616) 965-1596.


Thank you to all of you who responded to our technology assessment survey printed in the last issue. We are in the process of compiling the results and we plan to publish them in the March/April issue. In the meantime, following is a list of a few national organizations that help provide used computers and related equipment to nonprofit groups:

Computer Recycling Center
Cyert Hall, Room B-25
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
(412) 268-8609
contact - Mark Bartholomew

East-West Education Development Foundation
55 Temple Place
Boston, MA 02111
(617) 542-1234
contact - Alexander Randall

Gifts in Kind America
Recycled Technologies Program
700 North Fairfax Street, Suite 300
Alexandria, VA 22314
(713) 836-2121
contact - Jeanne Brown
(Send self-addressed stamped envelope and request the Recycle/Reuse Center application form.)

National Christian Foundation
591 West Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, Conn. 06830
(203) 622-6000
Contact: Yvette Marrin

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