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If Women Rule The Fundraising Game, Why Don’t They Hold More Top Positions?

Pile of Money
Getty Images/Ingram Publishing
Pile of Money

In the fundraising world, the future is in fact, female.

About 80 percent of workers in the field are women. As philanthropy is projected to slightly increase in 2017 and 2018, women are in the foreground of the donation business.

“It’s an area of great attraction to women," said Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Research. "There’s a lot of relationship building and dealing directly with people, and that attracts a lot of women into the field.”

Burk conducts research on donors and philanthropy. She was in Louisville recently to present at Donor-Centered Fundraising, an event by the Center For Nonprofit Excellence.

Although women run the fundraising world, Burk said at the management level, that 80 percent figure flips. Four out of five fundraisers at senior positions are men. And much like tech, engineering, and the corporate sector, fundraising may not be doing a great job attracting female talent to top positions.

In Louisville, the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, which provides training and other services to nonprofits in the area, keeps a database of their members. Of the more than 200 active members, 43 positions related to fundraising and development are held by men.

Although this isn’t a complete representation of all nonprofits in the region, these numbers correlate with fundraising being a predominately female business. And while there aren't as many women in senior level positions within the industry, the same goes for the ratio of women to men holding board positions.

According to the 2016 Survey of the Greater Louisville Nonprofit Sector, as an organization’s budget size increases, the number of women on the governing board declines.

“Women are very well represented in some of our smaller nonprofit organizations and in budget sizes up to a million [dollars],” said Gregory Nielsen, CEO of the Center For Nonprofit Excellence. “But once you hit that million dollar threshold, what we saw was that female representation on nonprofit boards declined in a measurable way.”

Kelly Hutchinson has been director of development at Day Spring Community Living for three years and has worked in the industry for more than 20 years. Hutchinson said she got into fundraising partly because of the skills she’d learn but also to make an impact on her community.

“I kind of always had the need to have some sort of an outcome beyond a paycheck or making a corporation better,” she said.

Those skills Hutchinson said she has learned over the years include marketing, event planning, management, research and data. She said development and fundraising are more than just bake sales.

“Some people don’t have the appreciation for the actual skills it takes to be a fundraiser,” she said.

Penelope Burk of Cygnus Research said one way to get more women in higher positions is offering better job benefits including professional development and flexible work environments — especially since most household responsibilities are still shouldered by women.

Marta Miranda-Straub, president of the Center for Women and Families, attended the event in which Burk spoke. She’s already employed tactics Burk suggests that would help maintain female staff, as well as getting them into senior management.

“We have a lot of support for self-care,” said Miranda-Straub. “It’s actually part of our coaching and performance evaluation. And we have a very flexible personal time off.”

Better work benefits is just part of the puzzle. The other part is changing the perspective and narrative that men are better prospects for top jobs.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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