Today’s Fundraisers, Tomorrow’s Leaders

womenFor us at IFC, we are as passionate about marking International Women’s Day as we are about any other major celebrations. Why? Simply, because it recognises an opportunity for change: more and more, women are able to lead the world, in every sector. Maybe this trend could be seen as a reunion between the Indian mystic tradition that considers the birth of girls as a rising of spiritual energy in the whole Cosmos, and the pragmatic western vision that gives value to those who are able to make things work well.

Women: a long story of battles, victories and defeats. But today, the value of a woman is increasing. Choice for women is increasing. From joining the army to running an international company to choosing to have or not to have children; more and more, women are able to self determinate.

Many women are entering the business space all over the world, and women-owned businesses are the biggest growth sector in many economies.  Due to the fact that women-owned businesses typically find it hard to attract investment funding, they have to start smaller and grow organically. Women’s empowerment is increasing as more companies, communities and countries are investing in women’s entrepreneurship. Increasingly, they recognise what organisations from the World Bank to Coca-Cola already know: that women are crucial to economic growth around the world. Based on experiences, women entrepreneurs see the world through a different lens and, in turn, do things differently.

Many studies have shown that a woman’s leadership style is preferred over a man’s.  A recent study from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, “Feminine values can give tomorrow’s leaders an edge,” argues that all leaders would be better off if they exhibited more “feminine” characteristics. Research was conducted amongst 64,000 people across 13 different countries worldwide for their opinion on male and female leadership. The results were quite revealing: 57% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the conduct of male leaders in their country, and two-thirds of respondents believe that the world would be better if male leaders were more like women (i.e. if they had more female qualities). Respondents were also asked to identify over 100 feminine characteristics, and included: expressive, plans for future, reasonable, loyal, flexible, patient, intuitive and collaborative.

With that, fundraising, could be the perfect career that encompasses women’s attributes and capabilities. The Institute of Fundraising membership figures show a high proportion of women in fundraising roles: 69 per cent of its 5,300 members. But, among the top 50 charities a gender disparity creeps in with 27 male directors of fundraising, compared to 23 female directors of fundraising.

Liz Tait, Director of Fundraising at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, says that women are clearly under-represented at the top, but this has started to change over the past decade and the situation will improve as the next generation of fundraisers take on more senior roles. She argues that the debate needs to move on from gender issues and focus instead on the value of women and the contribution they make.

Alan Gosschalk, Director of Fundraising at Scope, acknowledges an historic bias toward men at a senior level, but contends that this is changing. “Women give more to charity than men, so it is really important for women to be in fundraising,” he says. “It helps charities to understand the public better.”

Peter Lewis, Chief Executive of the IoF, says that a lot of the top thinkers in fundraising are women, citing examples such as Kath Abrahams, Director of Engagement and Income Generation for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, and Tanya Steele, Director of Fundraising at Save the Children. Steele acknowledges that charities should do more to encourage women to take senior roles. She argues that role models are vital for this.

Compared with other sectors, charities appear to be leading the way on gender equality. A recent report by the Counting Women In coalition painted a depressing picture of the lack of women in powerful positions in other sectors. Women make up only 17 per cent of directors of FTSE 100 companies, five per cent of editors of national newspapers and 22 per cent of MPs. In the voluntary sector, women are well represented, except at the most senior levels.

With their technical knowledge of business, combined with the desire to make a difference in society, whilst having strong collaboration skills and intuition, female fundraisers bring a lot to the table. And with such a strong skill set, given the opportunity, today’s fundraisers could well be tomorrow’s sector leaders.