Philanthropy’s Most Powerful Women 2017

In 2017, we saw the power of women grow in society like never before, and their influence in philanthropy continued to increase simultaneously. The following four women were standouts in the philanthropy community.

Melinda Gates, Co-Founder,  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Forbes writes that Gates continues her run as the most powerful woman in philanthropy as co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her laser focus on health is having a real impact as she showed in the foundation’s first “Goalkeepers” report which presented hard metrics behind the giving. Maternal deaths in Ethiopia are down 57% since 1990 thanks, in part, to foundation efforts to get more mothers to give birth in health care facilities.

Alexandra Cohen, Co-Founder, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation

Alex is the wife of the controversial hedge funder Steve Cohen, who commands one of the largest fortunes in finance. The Cohens focus mainly on healthcare and education, with the arts as another major interest. All signs point to continued increases. Forbes explains that while the couple is quite private, Alex is a key figure in their giving, with a backstory that helps explain why: She grew up in a low-income New York neighborhood.

Jennifer Buffett, Co-Founder, The NoVo Foundation

According to Inside Philanthropy, The NoVo Foundation that Jennifer Buffett leads may not rank among the largest foundations in the U.S., but it is one of the biggest family foundations led by a woman and it gives at a very substantial level: $56.7 million in grants in 2012 alone. And it’s only up from there, given that Warren Buffett has pledged shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock to NoVo that will ultimately total several billion dollars.

Eliza Manningham-Buller, Chair, The Wellcome Trust

Established in 1936 at the behest of pharmaceutical entrepreneur Henry Wellcome, the Wellcome Trust is now one of the biggest medical trusts in the world. The trust continues to tackle the globe’s biggest health problems, including working on a vaccine for Ebola and a potential cure for three tropical diseases. The trust announced that it’ll donate over $1 billion in 2017-18.

Female heads of nonprofits usually make less than their male counterparts. GuideStar’s 2017 Nonprofit Compensation Report found that male CEOs make 21% more than female CEOs of organizations with budgets of $50 million or more. With that in mind, it is even more important to acknowledge Melinda Gates, Alexandra Cohen, Jennifer Buffett and Eliza Manningham-Buller as 2017’s most powerful women philanthropists.

How Philanthropy Improves Community

hands painted loveSome of the wealthiest people in America’s past and present – John D. Rockefeller, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, Warren Buffett – are also some of the biggest philanthropists in our country’s history.  Ultimately, feeling good is a lot more rewarding than having a lot of stuff.  But philanthropy does a lot more than making a donor feel good about themselves.  It helps improve society and foster a more positive community.  

It almost works like a ripple effect.  I mentioned Andrew Carnegie above, so let’s look at Carnegie Mellon, a school that he founded through as part of his dedication to education and scientific research.  Alumni of Carnegie Mellon who spent their formative years learning at this school have gone on to do incredible things ranging in fields from technology to sports to entertainment.  Others have gone to work in other educational institutions, spreading their knowledge and touching new lives.  It’s an endless cycle, and it could not have happened without that initial generous contribution by Andrew Carnegie.  

But that’s a very big picture.  Let’s look at a smaller picture.  By donating to a smaller, more local cause, you can help improve the community that you call home.  Maybe there’s a homeless shelter in your town that offers a rehabilitation program to the homeless to help them learn a trade and get a job.  By donating to such a cause, you’re helping a person get off the streets, learn a skill, and provide not only for themselves, but also their family.  Not only did you just improve that person’s life, but also your own community.  

Another example: there could be a community movie theater in your town that’s facing potential closure.  They have a plan to renovate the theater, which will save the business and bring in a lot more revenue, but they don’t have the money to make that happen.  By donating to such a cause, you help a local institution to survive, which will allow it to create jobs in your community while also providing a great service: moveis.  

Whether you’re looking at the bigger picture or a smaller picture, donations are a great way that you can do your part to improve society.  Find a cause you can donate to today that will improve and strengthen your community.  You’ll be glad that you did!  

How to Get Your Business Involved in Giving

As a business, you exist in a symbiotic relationship with the community that surrounds you. The community supported you and assisted you as you were in the process of growing, and eventually it’s your turn to return the favor. There are countless ways for your company to get involved; it’s up to you to decide how to best give back in a way that will make your employees feel more connected to the business and the community as a whole. Here are just a few ways to get your team involved.

  • Employee volunteer days.
    • Plan large events and gatherings that will bring your employees together in pursuit of a common goal. Take a day once a quarter to go clean up up an overgrown cemetery in the community, rake leaves in the park, volunteer at a nursing home, or find another way you can best help your community.
  • Clean up the roads.
    • Although the littering rate has dropped 61% over the past 40 years here in the United States, we’re still producing more than a quarter million tons trash each year. While it’s unlikely you and your staff alone have the time and resources to clean the entire ocean or reduce your city’s carbon footprint, you can make a difference at home by helping to clean up the litter and trash in your community. As a business, you could Adopt a Highway and take a day or two each year to walk alongside the road and clean up the trash gets tossed from car windows. You could also potentially save a fellow commuter a lot of financial burden and stress; just take a look at the damage bottles, cans, and plastic bags can cause.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
    • Food is one of the most basic human needs, but for some people constant access to it is a luxury that they do not have. That’s why community food banks exist; to make sure people who are struggling to make ends meet are able to put food on the table for their families. Have a day each week when employees go volunteer a few at a time on rotation. Organize food drives to collect more resources for the banks. Find ways that you can relieve the burdens the organization feels.
  • Sponsor a charity.
    • Do your employees have incentives for reaching their goals each month? Each quarter? Do you set aside money for company happy hours or bonding exercises? Why not set aside one quarter’s earnings to sponsor a charity? Have the employees decide collectively which charity to give to and set a goal to reach; benefiting a cause they’ve chosen to help will be their incentive to work hard and meet goals over the next three months.