Lack of Women in Leadership Positions Hurts Nonprofits, Women Say

Nonprofit organizations are missing out on donations and hobbling their own efforts by not putting more women in board and leadership positions, a poll of female nonprofit employees commissioned by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and New York University’s George H. Heyman, Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising finds.

According to the poll, 59 percent of respondents working at nonprofits with at least $25 million in assets said their organizations would be more effective at advancing their mission if they had more women on the board, while 58 percent said their fundraising efforts among women would be more effective. Conducted by Harris Interactive, the survey also found that 40 percent of women at large nonprofits said their organizations did not put as much effort into identifying and soliciting donations from affluent women as they do men, and that as a result their organizations were leaving money on the table, while 36 percent said wealthy female donors were given the same respect as wealthy male donors.

Debra Mesch, director of the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, told the Chronicle that the lack of attention given to women as donors or board members was consistent with her own research. Even though women donors tend to be more loyal than their male counterparts and are often better at asking their networks for donations and other resources, they "are not considered as major donors or perceived to be the decision makers," said Mesch. "We certainly see that in many studies there are financial gains for organizations when more women are on the board."

The poll also found that 57 percent of all respondents who were not CEOs said they aspire to lead a nonprofit, including 72 percent of women age 33 and younger. Those who do not have that ambition cited as their reasons the time commitment required (55 percent) and the stress involved (44 percent) in leading a nonprofit. Only 7 percent of the women surveyed said they didn't think they were capable of taking a top leadership position, while 44 percent said their organization favors men over equally qualified women for such positions.

Jan Masaoka, chief executive officer of the California Association of Nonprofits, told the Chronicle that people who make hiring decisions tend to gravitate toward candidates who are like them, so that when a board is dominated by men, it tends to choose men to fill executive positions. "Boards will often spend a lot of time on the desired profile of the type of person they want in terms of skills and professional background," said Masaoka. "Then they'll turn around and hire the people they like and they ignore the profile."