How One University Supercharged Fundraising and Giving For Women and Girls

Martha Taylor (left) and Lori DiPrete Brown have spearheaded a five-year old program that greatly enhances fundraising and giving for women and girls at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Martha Taylor (left) and Lori DiPrete Brown have spearheaded a five-year old program that greatly enhances fundraising and giving for women and girls at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Martha Taylor has spent decades working to understand and expand women’s philanthropy—even though fundraising experts like Jerold Panas were quick to negate her early arguments that female donors are different from their male counterparts.

Taylor’s ideas—that women are more collaborative in charitable giving than men, among other differences—are now widely accepted. Researchers have plowed substantial resources into understanding female largesse. The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy, for example, an organization Taylor co-founded with her longtime collaborator Sondra Shaw Hardy, recently released new research showing that family giving is led by women.

Thinking Differently

But while Taylor’s gender ideas are accepted, at age 69, she’s still battling what she says are outdated fundraising practices. At the University of Wisconsin, where Taylor has spent her entire fundraising career, the way individual gifts are recorded is problematic, she says. The biggest barrier is school- and college-based fundraising; those entities are listed as the recipients of donations. That means people, especially baby boomers who want to support women and girls, can’t tell how the entire university is working to foster gender equity domestically and worldwide, Taylor says. With college-based fundraising, she adds, “gender-centered projects don’t rise to the top.”

That began to change five years ago, when Taylor met Lori DiPrete Brown. With other campus leaders, they formed the idea of a campus-wide gender and well-being program. Then they mapped out all the ways the Madison campus is supporting women and girls, including several programs for impoverished women and their families established by DiPrete Brown in countries like Ghana and Ecuador. This was the start of Women and Well-being in Wisconsin and the World, or the 4W initiative. DiPrete Brown is its first director.

The campus leaders identified 19 programs, each headed by a board of directors who are now required to make an annual gift of $5,000. The programs cover everything from ending sex trafficking to supporting women in earth sciences to a program that aids the grandmothers who are doing most of the child rearing in Malawi.

“This could be a model for other schools,” Taylor says, adding that 4W is receiving requests from across the country for presentations about its work. The 4W effort, she notes, exemplifies best practices that women’s fundraising experts like Kathleen Loehr have recommended, including getting top leaders actively engaged in appealing to women. Taylor says that the university’s most-senior leader, chancellor Rebecca Blank, is a key supporter of 4W, along with multiple deans.  

Catalyzing New Work—and New Giving

But the 4W initiative is not just about engaging leaders and empowering women and girls, Taylor says. “It’s also the link to philanthropy and increased fundraising returns.”  

For example, donor Lorna Jorgenson Wendt gave a seven-figure gift in 2014 to sponsor a new research and study program called MORE (Money + Relationships + Equality) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After going through a painful divorce, Wendt realized that women can be permanently disadvantaged financially when spouses leave. MORE offers an “Equal From the Start” workbook to help couples with financial issues and links to relevant research on money, relationships and equality. The program has attracted media coverage.

In a segment on the local news in February, for example, MORE professor Christine Whelan urged couples to “talk money with your honey.” That, she said, is a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than eating chocolate or going out to dinner.

Another large gift of more than $500,000 from a family foundation supported the initiation of STREETS, a program to address sex trafficking with, among other things, better services for survivors. 

The interdisciplinary approach of 4W programs, which combine direct action with research and education, has burnished the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s reputation. In addition to hosting annual conferences and events on gender issues, it was awarded a Unesco Chair on Gender and Well-being, the only one of its kind among 20 Unesco chairs nationwide.

The 4W initiative, by producing evidence-based programs and policy, has inspired additional gender-oriented giving at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year’s graduates, for example, were inspired to honor the 150th anniversary of women’s first enrollment at the University of Wisconsin, using their class gift to commission “The Monarch,” a metal sculpture by an alumna celebrating women. The celebration of the 150th also includes a new “In Her Honor” award: Donors give to honor exceptional women whose stories they’re invited to share.

The 4W initiative, Taylor says, is the most meaningful work she’s done in a decades-long fundraising career focused on women. DiPrete Brown also has high praise: “4W has catalyzed my work in ways I never expected,” she says. “We have demonstrated that this works.”