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.
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
contact - Mark Bartholomew
East-West Education Development Foundation
55 Temple Place
Boston, MA 02111
contact - Alexander Randall
Gifts in Kind America
Recycled Technologies Program
700 North Fairfax Street, Suite 300
Alexandria, VA 22314
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
Contact: Yvette Marrin