Lois Buntz Shines Spotlight on Female Philanthropists in Generosity & Gender

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Lois advises women to ‘step into philanthropy and then step up’

Before she left her position as CEO at United Way of East Central Iowa, Lois Buntz had an idea for a “simple little project” about women in philanthropy. She figured she would interview a few women for an article, but five years later, after conducting more than 70 interviews, the nonprofit fundraising leader completed a book. Generosity and Gender: Philanthropic Models for Women Donors and the Fund Development Professionals Who Support Them was published in 2022 by Palgrave Macmillan.

“I’d never done anything like this so I was a bit intimidated about the scope of it,” says Lois, who operates a consulting business with a focus on women’s philanthropy programs, strategic planning, major gifts and endowments. “I didn’t know how the book would be received. But once it was published, I felt a bit more confident. This is the fun part—to talk about it and engage in conversations with people and use it through my consulting work to help other fundraisers who want to reach out to women donors.”

 Initially, Lois wanted to write about the stories and themes she was hearing from female philanthropists. But once she got clear that she wanted to publish the book she was writing, Lois knew she had to strengthen it with research.

“I felt like the themes I was identifying needed some backup,” she says. “Rather than just the qualitative information, I wanted some quantitative data that said this is true or not true. That’s when I started delving into the research.”

 Lois combined her interviews and research with her own fundraising knowledge and experience built over a nearly 40-year career. While the book is written with fundraisers in mind, she wanted it to be accessible to anyone interested in the topic of women in philanthropy. Through the book, Lois learned a lot about how women give and the different aspects of their involvement in philanthropy. Some of what she learned was disheartening.

“I knew women had great capacity to give and that we will have more,” Lois says. “But what surprised me is that, despite all that has happened in the last 50 years in the women’s movement, the support for women through philanthropy is still relatively small. Even though major foundations are giving more to programs that support women and girls, the percentage of philanthropy is still paltry. It’s very sad. I thought maybe it had gotten better.”

 Another key takeaway: Women need to be more empowered to give.

“We have to get more women involved and women have to be more confident about their giving,” Lois says. “They have to understand their assets. They have to understand what they can do. And they have to feel more powerful about it.”

 Some of the issues may be generational, Lois maintains.  “I think younger women feel a little more confident about it because many more of them have been in the workforce than women who are older. They are earning their own money versus inheriting their money and that does make a difference,” she says.  She also believes women have to get more involved in the financial aspects of their life rather than turning that over to a male spouse, partner or financial advisor.

“It's really incumbent upon us to learn more about our financial situation so we can make good decisions,” Lois says. “Women use their heart a lot as well as their head. They’re very driven by their compassion, their empathy. You really need that combination. We need the head part, the analytical part, but you need the compassion part too.”

 That the number of women in leadership roles in business and politics is lagging behind men is another factor, Lois says.

“A lot of decisions about issues that impact women’s lives and the money that follows are still being made, unfortunately, not by women or by people of color or the people who are impacted. We still have a long way to go, unfortunately.”

 Asked to speak directly to women, Lois says: “Think about what you want to accomplish with your philanthropy, whether it’s time, talent, or treasure. Understand what assets you have. And then do something. In my book, I say, ‘Step into philanthropy and then step up.’ People have to step in first and that can be with a small gift and then, over time, they can step up.”  

Female philanthropists care about end result, book reveals

 For her book, Lois conducted more than 70 interviews, starting with female philanthropists in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area, where she lives and runs Lois Buntz Consulting. She made many connections along the way. One of her favorite interviews was with producer Abigail Disney, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney who co-founded The Walt Disney Company with Abigail’s great-uncle Walt Disney. The interviews, she says, reinforced for her that “everybody has a story.”

“Everybody has a mentor. Everybody has somebody who inspired them. Many times it was a parent, but it could have been a colleague or company. They all talked about their values and what drives them. They all had something they wanted to accomplish with their philanthropy. It was about the end result: Who benefits? Women are not into public recognition. They care about the result.”

 Lois hopes her book will inspire more women to become philanthropists.

“One of the themes in the book is that we’ve had three waves, three evolutions of women’s philanthropy,” she says. “I think we’re moving into the fourth wave and that fourth wave can be an opportunity where women start giving more and giving bigger and giving bolder. I hope the book encourages women to do that. I hope it encourages fundraisers to be more strategic and direct about engaging women in philanthropy. And I hope we help some fundraisers along the way.”

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