Although women's foundations and funds define impact in various ways, three in four report success in achieving their short-term objectives, a report from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds.
Based on a survey of U.S. grantmaking organizations "created and primarily run by women with the purpose of funding organizations, programs, and initiatives that support, benefit, and/or advance women and associated populations" and interviews with fifteen of their directors, the report, Change Agents: The Goals and Impacts of Women’s Foundations and Funds (36 pages, PDF), found that 63 percent of respondents shared the broad organizational goal of advancing women's philanthropy, followed by educating others (61 percent); advancing women economically (61 percent); being a voice for women's needs, issues, and solutions (59 percent); creating broader social change (52 percent); advancing gender equity (52 percent); and bringing communities together (46 percent). In terms of funding priorities, 61 percent and 50 percent of respondents, respectively, mentioned economic empowerment and education, while the top policy areas supported were pay equity (77 percent), access to affordable child care (63 percent), and safety and freedom from violence (50 percent).
Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the study found that respondents were most likely to say their efforts were impactful in terms of empowering women and girls (74 percent), achieving short-term objectives (74 percent), supporting successful programs (72 percent), and creating local, small-scale change (67 percent), while fewer reported success in creating broader social change (30 percent) or policy change (35 percent). In terms of strategies, about half of the respondents reported taking a gender-lens, community-based, social-change, and/or strategic approach to their grantmaking, while 30 percent said they supported hands-on/participatory and data-driven grantmaking, while 24 percent were keen on impact investing.
At the same time, the survey found that women's foundations and funds face barriers in measuring their impact, with 61 percent saying that outcomes are difficult to measure and 46 percent and 43 percent citing the challenge presented by limited resources and the difficulty of finding qualified staff and volunteers. While all respondents used end-of-program reports from grantee organizations in their program evaluations and 88 percent asked for progress updates from grantees, only 44 percent tracked grantmaking outcomes, only 41 percent surveyed their grantees, and only 18 percent surveyed beneficiaries of the programs they fund.
"Women's foundations and funds are pioneers in the gender equality space and have helped unlock significant funding and support for women's and girls' causes in nearly every state in the U.S.," said lead researcher Elizabeth Gillespie, a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. "This study contributes important insights that can help women's foundations and funds continue to refine their approach, while also providing other organizations a model for how to support their communities through individual empowerment and locally driven change."
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