Women as Philanthropists
All Christians are called to be faithful caretakers of the things of God (Gen. 1:26-28). However, in our evangelical circles, sometimes we neglect to guide women positively in their kingdom-building efforts. To combat this, church leaders must incorporate women meaningfully into the life of the church and efforts outside their local assembly. One of the dynamic avenues for women's service is philanthropy.
The philanthropic ministry has been a consistent pathway for women's Christian service throughout the centuries. It is an ancient craft.
Around the Second Temple, women inherited significant amounts of wealth from their male relatives due to civil unrest and wars. Wealthy women who participated in philanthropy were called patronesses. These patronesses invested generously in their community, and in return, received honor and relational alliances. They could also move through social classes and political spheres to leverage their influence.
In the Scriptures, we see that wealthy women were supporters of Jesus' ministry and traveled with the other disciples (Luke 8:1-3). In Acts 16, Lydia was a God-fearer and business owner who came to faith through Paul's preaching and provided hospitality. Romans 16:1-2 mentions that Paul's friend and patron, Phoebe, was entrusted to deliver the letter to the church in Rome.
Likewise, throughout church history, women gave their time, talents, and treasures to advance the gospel. Olympia (368-408), a disciple of John Chrysostom, and Paula (347-404), a patron and friend of Saint Jerome, gave their wealth to the church, actively taught women, and holistically gave of themselves to ministry.
Another lesson of history is that culture and contexts are constantly changing. We find ourselves in a different context than Olympia or Phoebe, but what does this mean for modern-day women?
Women often leveraged philanthropy to serve God and advance the gospel by giving to the poor, relief work, and building schools and hospitals. It should be no different today. Like the Moody Bible Institute, many people and organizations are indebted to the generous hard work and philanthropic support of women.
What about today, what are the current trends?
According to Women Doing Well's 2012 report, women own over 50% of investment wealth...
It is essential to understand that women's roles have dramatically changed within society. Women are now obtaining more degrees than men and are closing the income gap. According to Women Doing Well's 2012 report, women own over 50% of investment wealth, control over 80% of home purchasing decisions, and are expected to have $41 trillion wealth transfer to them over the next 40 plus years. Our job as Christian leaders is to know our audience and steward our female constituents and patrons well.
There are several different dynamics Christian leaders need to be aware of when engaging with women as philanthropists.
1. Women's wealth and planned giving trends
Women tend to outlive men. For this reason, a wife will most likely oversee her family's estate at some point. If she was initially excluded in the process, she may amend her estate or change the beneficiary designations altogether.
A woman often will consult her children, seek as much information, and then set up her estate based upon what she believes is fair. She does not need to be pressured but encouraged that you are a resource. Once she has committed, she is a very loyal partner and supporter.
When you speak to a couple about the charitable gift, make sure you include both the husband and wife. Make sure you invite both to lunch, address them both in an email, and encourage them to deliberate jointly.
2. Women's volunteerism and involvement
Women tend not to be transactional but see their world holistically. Women enjoy collaborative working groups like a giving circle. They often think about a need in the community then fundraise and enterprise together. Women form friendships in these communities, and if a woman trusts the organization, she will also open up her network.
There is also a close correlation between a woman's volunteerism and her giving.
There is also a close correlation between a woman's volunteerism and her giving. Providing her an avenue for both will only solidify the loyalty between her and your efforts. If you see a gap here, ask yourself: “Does my organization have women sitting on the board or serving as a trustee?” If not, consider changing this and adding – at the very least – mentorship or internship programs to build connections.
3. Women's giving patterns
Women want to make a difference by helping others, and often give because of their relationships with the organization. Women also tend to be risk-averse and make balanced decisions. They also like to distribute their giving evenly across their charities. It is crucial to tailor your appeals accordingly.
As leaders, it is essential to know our audience and create pathways for stewardship. One avenue for women to carry out the Great Commission is through philanthropy. And you can help foster this great work.
Jen Ilchishin is a Moody Bible Institute (MBI) alumna and a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. She has been serving in development for over 14 years, and currently, she is an Associate Director at the Moody Bible Institute. She is also an Advisory Development Board Member at 4Word, Co-Chair at MBI's Envision, and a student member at Evangelical Theological Society.