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The new faces of power
Women are changing the nature of charitable giving
Jane Coleman, Sharon Stark and Diane Ballweg.
Credit:Eric Tadsen

In the fall of 2002, Diane Ballweg made a momentous decision. She'd been asked to contribute to the Great Performance Fund, which would support Madison's arts groups as they moved into newer ' and more expensive ' space in the Overture Center.

Ballweg loves the arts. And she deeply respects Pleasant Rowland and Jane Coleman, the two women who were asking for donations. Rowland, founder of the American Girl doll company, had pledged to match up to $23 million in contributions to the performance fund. Coleman, former head of the Madison Community Foundation, was leading the fund-raising drive.

'Pleasant's gift to all the arts groups really spoke to me,' says Ballweg. 'I've always been involved in the arts.'

But there was a problem: Ballweg's husband, Ken, wasn't interested in donating to the fund. Diane Ballweg had never given a large gift on her own and was hesitant to do so now. 'In the past, we had always given jointly,' she says. 'It was a big decision.'

Ballweg, it so happens, had a long history of philanthropic involvement. In 1996, she'd suggested that her family's company, Endres Manufacturing in Waunakee, start a foundation. Her husband liked the idea, since the company's administrative staff was too small to deal with the constant influx of charitable requests.

'We're a family-owned business in a small town,' says Ballweg. 'We're called on very often to do things for the community. A foundation seemed like a wiser way to handle it.'

Under Ballweg's leadership, the foundation has grown to a $1 million endowment. It gives away about $50,000 a year to various community groups. But giving a large donation on her own was new ground for Ballweg, and she recognized its significance.

While working as development director for Edgewood High School, Ballweg had researched who gave donations to the school and why. She was startled to learn that women were not usually asked, even though they outlive their husbands by seven years on average and often inherit the family wealth.

'I thought, 'Geez, why do we always go to the men?'' she recalls. 'Why do we always meet on the golf course with a bunch of guys? I saw it happen in my own life, and I resented it.' Endres Manufacturing was started by her grandfather, and Ballweg had worked at the company in various capacities since she was a girl. 'It was my money too, and I worked just as hard for it!'

Ballweg began asking the mothers of Edgewood students for donations, knowing they'd be interested in supporting the education of their children. And she made up her mind to give $3 million of her own money to the Great Performance Fund. Looking back, she sees this moment as 'a unique opportunity for me as a woman.'

In recent years, more women than ever are discovering their philanthropic power, and it's changing the nature of giving.

In each of the last four years, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the nation's number one or number two top charitable donors have been women, including Cordelia Scaife May, who left $404 million to environmental causes in 2005, and Joan Kroc, heir to the McDonald's fortune, who left the Salvation Army a $1.5 billion bequest in 2003.

During the 1970s, there were only a handful of 'women's funds' that gave directly to programs supporting women or girls. Now, there are more than 100 such funds. And universities, the United Way and other fund-raising groups across the country have been forming special philanthropy councils that appeal directly to women.

And this quiet revolution has roots in Madison.

When Martha Taylor joined the staff of the UW Foundation in 1975, only a few other development officers were asking female alums for money. 'If they were talking to women, they were asking about leaving a bequest in their wills,' says Taylor. 'Or asking them to do something in memory of their husbands.'

Taylor thought this was odd, especially since, 'In most cases, the wife is an equal decisionmaker in the family.'

Bob Rennebohm, then the foundation's president, knew there was an untapped market of female donors. 'He always knew that women control the money,' says Taylor, 'because they outlive their husbands.'

With Rennebohm's support, Taylor and Jean Manchester-Biddick, a local businesswoman and then the only female on the UW Foundation's board, started holding focus groups with women to discuss whether they'd be interested in giving. And in 1988, the university formed the Women's Philanthropy Council, the first of its kind in the nation.

At the time, says Taylor, the men who worked at UW Foundation questioned the need for a separate council for women. 'They felt uncomfortable being excluded,' she says. 'Well, welcome to the club, guys! We've been excluded for years.'

In 1991, The New York Times ran an article on the UW's efforts to attract female donors. Suddenly, Taylor and her research associate, Sondra Shaw, were swamped with letters and calls from people all around the country interested in tapping into the wealth of women. In response, Taylor and Shaw set up a national organization that eventually became the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University.

Women's giving, says Taylor, 'was a message that was just bubbling up.'

And it was a message that resonated with one very important woman in Madison.

In 1993, Jane Coleman attended a conference on women's philanthropy hosted by Taylor and Shaw in Racine. Then head of the Madison Community Foundation, Coleman was struck by a statistic she heard at the conference: Only 5% of foundation money goes to programs geared specifically toward women or girls. (The figure is now estimated to be about 7%.)

'On the drive home, I was thinking, 'I have to do something about this!'' says Coleman. She knew that women had access to a tremendous amount of funds, but was amazed that more women were not giving. 'Women clearly did not have a sense of themselves as philanthropists.'

Coleman sent a letter to 100 local women, asking each for a $1,000 contribution. The money would be used to start 'A Fund for Women,' which would support nonprofit programs for women and children.

'We weren't sure we could do it at all,' says Coleman. But within a few months, the fund had raised $100,000. Coleman quickly realized that $100,000 was not much of an endowment. At most, the fund would be able to give $5,000 a year. So she asked three local foundations to help out, while the endowment grew. This spring, A Fund for Women surpassed the $1 million mark. Since 1993, it has contributed more than $500,000 to local programs.

A Fund for Women concentrated on directing much-needed dollars to women's programs, and capitalized on traits particular to women donors. Women don't give money for the same reasons men do, and they don't give money in quite the same way.

'The women's model is collaboration,' says Taylor, noting the rise in popularity of 'giving circles,' in which small groups of female friends raise money for a particular cause.

And Coleman notes that many women in Madison donated to A Fund for Women simply because they'd been invited to do so by other women. 'Women like to do projects together,' she says. 'They're consensus-builders.'

A Fund for Women set up a grantmaking committee, composed of donors, to choose which programs to fund. The fund also made sure to invite donors regularly to tour agencies or meet with grant recipients. Coleman says women, more than men, want accountability in their giving.

'The women wanted to be involved in how the money is spent,' says Coleman. 'They want a firsthand view.'

Ballweg agrees that women care less about the prestige that comes with giving a large donation, and more about the results. 'I think overall, women are not as competitive as men,' she says. 'For men, it's like some kind of feather in their cap. For women, it's 'What's my gift doing?''

When Sharon Stark, a marketing professional who owns her own company in Spring Green, gave $5,000 to the UW's journalism school to support an investigative reporting course, she made a point of attending some of the classes. 'I was watching my money at work,' she says. 'It was fun.'

Taylor says that by using collaboration models and requiring accountability, 'women changed the face of philanthropy.' These days, most funds offer donors a chance to interact with grant recipients.

But there is another major difference in what many women donors are seeking to achieve. Says Taylor, 'Changing society is the number one agenda we have.'

Already, women donors have wrought huge changes, through their funding choices.

'Think of all the organizations doing breast cancer research,' says Jan Gietzel, current head of A Fund for Women. 'Twenty years ago, none of those existed.'

Organizations that work with victims of domestic violence and those that support reproductive choice have also gotten a major boost from women donors. In 2004, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin received nearly $450,000 from the Brico Fund, a charitable enterprise run by Lynde Uihlein, heir to the Schlitz Brewing fortune. The money has been used for political advocacy and community outreach.

In 2001, Uihlein make it clear she wouldn't support programs that didn't have women in positions of power. The Milwaukee's Boys & Girls Club, which had a board of directors made up mostly of men, chose a woman as its chair. And, for the first time, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra named a woman as its president.

'Women want social change,' says Stark. 'They respond to injustices almost instinctively. When they see an injustice, they want to make it right.' She says women are usually more interested in childcare or human rights issues than men.

In fact, much of the money women give is directed toward helping other women achieve economic stability and self-sufficiency. This year, A Fund for Women gave a grant to the local group Unidos Against Domestic Violence. One of the reasons the fund's donors liked Unidos, says Gietzel, is that it asked clients what tools they needed to escape their dangerous situations. Various women had answered: classes in car repair, computers, English and even yoga, to help them relieve stress. The grant from A Fund for Women supported it all.

'Most women do not want to put Band-Aids on things,' says Gietzel. 'They want to start solving these problems.' And by helping other women become self-sufficient, says Gietzel, donors believe they can alleviate the broader problems of poverty, homelessness and crime.

But despite everything women givers have done, few people are aware of how they're changing society. And that's largely because many women philanthropists work behind the scenes.

Take Madison resident Dale Leibowitz, for example. Her Purple Moon Foundation has given millions in grants, including $1.4 million to the Family Centers, which works to end child abuse. And Leibowitz personally gave $275,000 to Fair Wisconsin to help fight the proposed constitutional ban against gay marriage.

'Women like to do things quietly,' observes Gietzel. 'Often men want their names on a building. Women say, 'Oh, I didn't do that much,' after they've just given $10 million to somebody.'

And, indeed, Leibowitz declined an interview request, as did Pleasant Rowland, certainly the most influential woman philanthropist in Madison.

'She's not looking for fanfare,' says Coleman, a good friend of Rowland's. 'She's extremely generous. If Pleasant didn't have a lot of money, she'd be a philanthropist anyway.'

Even Ballweg was reluctant to say how much she gave to the Great Performance Fund. She was afraid her $3 million gift might intimidate other donors.

'People say, 'Oh, I could never give that much,'' she says. 'That's not the point. It's not how much you give, it's that you give. Everyone's involved in the effort to make the world better.'

In the next few years, the power of women to effect change through charitable giving will grow, as their wealth grows. According to various estimates, women will control 60% of the nation's wealth by 2010.

'You'll start seeing more and more million-dollar donations,' predicts Gietzel. 'You'll see bigger amounts of money placed in ways that really do change society.'

Many women are also doing their part to educate the next generation. Ballweg made sure her 17-year-old daughter makes financial donations every year: 'I've told her it's her duty to do so.'

Ballweg also invited her 27-year-old daughter-in-law to sit on her foundation's board. 'We need to get younger women involved,' she says, adding that they should be included even if they don't yet have a lot of experience or wisdom to share. 'How are they going to get it if you don't educate them? Setting the stage for the next generation, that's the most important part that women better do.'

But some women are worried that their increased power in giving won't matter, if the government continues to cut funding to the nonprofit groups they're trying to support.

'The one thing that upsets me very much is the government cutbacks in areas where we've been raising money,' says Taylor. When she was hired in 1975, the UW-Madison got 49% of its funding from the state government; now it gets 19%. 'That wasn't part of the bargain,' she says.

Stark agrees the government can't keep opening up voids for private donors to fill. 'I don't care how much money you have, one person is not going to solve the problem,' she says. 'The government needs to do its part.'

Still, Taylor is delighted with the progress women everywhere have made since the UW started a national revolution by finally asking women for donations, too.

'I think things have come a long way in the last 20 years,' she says. 'Women have finally arrived.' Some of them are even asking for the same kind of recognition men get. The UW's art museum, for example, was named after both Simona and Jerome Chazen, the husband and wife who donated $20 million to it.

Ballweg sees charitable giving as one of the final frontiers in the quest by women to be on an even level with men. 'There's a new movement in women's rights,' she says. 'Before, people wanted the right to vote or the right to work. Now I think women are looking for even more than that. They're looking for true equality.'

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