A real force in philanthropy
Women's influence continues to grow
Anne Sage vividly remembers her entrée into philanthropy: trick-or-treating for UNICEF when she was seven years old. It was her idea — nobody told her to do it.
“My parents were amazing people,” says Anne. “They had a thoughtful way of understanding that we share the planet with everyone else, that there is something larger than oneself." In the 70s, her father was chairman of the United Way, so it was always clear to the family that giving and volunteerism has a tremendous impact on the community. When she was three, they took in an entire neighbor family when their house burned down. “It’s just what you did — we all knew there is a very thin line between security and insecurity.”
When Anne’s father died suddenly in 2006, the family discovered that he had left some $10 million in gifts to the community — Rhode Island Foundation was the recipient of $2 million, placed in a donor advised fund that Anne and her brother were to manage. “I had no idea what I was doing. We assumed that he wanted to give to Rhode Island organizations even though he left no specific instructions.” Anne credits Neil Steinberg, Carol Golden, and Adrian Bonéy with helping her over the years to gain a deeper understanding of the philanthropic process.
Anne’s philanthropic interests are diverse. Many of her decisions are circumstantial — who is losing federal funds, who is currently underserved? Often, they are related to climate and the environment, healthcare, and veterans’ affairs. “But Newport County Fund and Rhode Island Food Bank are always included.” She also looks at organizations that sustain our state’s institutions —the Philharmonic, the arts, the Zoo, Roger Williams Park. “The things that make Rhode Island the special place that it is.”
Carla Ricci discovered relatively late in life that she wanted to find a way to make philanthropy a central part of her life — as a result, there is now a Women’s Philanthropy Group at the Rhode Island Foundation.
Carla Ricci came to Rhode Island 12 years ago. Her husband, Russ, had grown up here but when they married some 40 years ago, unable to find jobs in Rhode Island, they settled in Boston. However, they were drawn to Rhode Island, where Russ still has family. They bought an old farm in Charlestown, making Rhode Island their home away from home. “People underestimate just how personable this state is,” she says. “By word of mouth, we heard of Carol Golden and, because of her personal touch, we moved our philanthropic money from the Boston Foundation to Rhode Island Foundation.”
Carla is particularly drawn to education, historic preservation, and a pet project, WaterFire. “We need to find ways for the community to come together, to make eye contact and smile, and WaterFire makes that happen."
When Linda Newton was a teenager, she recruited her father to drive her around to nursing homes to deliver handmade decorations so that the patients could decorate their rooms or stick them on the roll-up blinds.
Linda grew up in a very segregated Washington, DC during Jim Crow, and when it ended there was great hope for the promise of integration. But that dream of full integration and equality for all dissipated, and Linda started focusing on the needs of the Black community. “It informed my thoughts about where I needed to put my efforts.”
As the head of charitable giving for Blue Cross Blue Shield Rhode Island, Linda became involved with the Rhode Island Foundation, starting the company's Blue Angel Fund in 2003. She has been involved with the Black Philanthropy Bannister Fund — supporting organizations that serve the Black community—since its initial fundraising efforts (as the Black Philanthropy Fund) and now serves as its chair.
"I am a realist," says Linda, "and the racial dynamic that killed George Floyd and a long list of young
Black males killed without consequences is not something women are immune to — these are our sons, brothers, and husbands.
My great- grandfather was a slave. Promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion is more than just a job. It is my responsibility.”
Simone Joyaux founded the Women’s Fund 20 years ago with the intent of leveling the gender playing field. The Fund was established to make grants to organizations that promoted systemic change that empowered women and girls.
“I did not come to philanthropy naturally,” says Simone. “It wasn’t because of parents or religion.” At age nine, she had made her career decision — she wanted to teach French. But when she ultimately graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in 20th century French comparative literature, she could not find a job at a public school. Instead, she ended up at the Lansing Center for the Arts. “With no experience in fundraising, I found myself managing a nonprofit.” An avid learner, Simone grew the organization and, to her surprise, found that “this philanthropy stuff is pretty cool!” She moved to Rhode Island in 1981 to become the chief development officer at Trinity Rep until, in 1988, she left to start a consulting business, catering to nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations.
Simone points out that the women’s funding movement started in 1972 when four visionary women established the Ms. Foundation for Women. They supported women and girls’ issues, which traditional established foundations were not doing. It was about social justice.
Women are engaged in philanthropy from many perspectives: as donors, professionals, fundraisers, nonprofit leaders, and volunteers. “The genesis of the Women’s Philanthropy Group was my desire to be with a group of like-minded women,” says Carla. “I feel isolated when I just write out checks.” Initially 23 women signed on, women who wanted to talk about giving. “How do we share our interests with our spouses and children — how do we draw them into the process? How do we make sound decisions about which organizations to support — are they well-run, am I helping them fulfill their mission? This group has become a place to talk about this.”
Ego is often involved in philanthropy, but there is no ego in the Rhode Island Foundation’s Women’s Philanthropy Group,” says Anne, who is also a member. “And some of the brightest and wealthiest women in Rhode Island are in it.”
As women continue to make inroads in business, government, and the nonprofit sector, they also create opportunities to be involved with philanthropy — giving their time, talent, and treasure for the benefit of the community, be it local or global.
Women are seeking more input in a vital sector of society — philanthropy — which has historically been dominated by men. The emergence of a new wave of female philanthropic leaders suggests the re-balancing act is already underway.
“Women have been involved in institution building for a long time, but often did not get recognized for it,” says Carla. “Jesse Metcalf’s wife, Louisa Sharpe Metcalf, was actually the philanthropist, but her husband gets all the credit!”
“Philanthropy is part of my self-definition,” says Simone. “I teach philanthropy — that’s what my consulting is: teaching social justice, building stronger nonprofits. It is the primary focus of my work, and of all of my giving.”
“Women are more hands-on, more directly engaged with our giving,” observes Linda. “We’re not transactional — giving involves a personal connection. I like to give new organizations with good ideas a chance, to help them grow, which means investing a significant amount of time in site visits. I always associated philanthropy with people of ‘abundant means.’ Now, I see that philanthropy involves not just money but time and talent as well.”
The challenges we face, both large and small, call for more strategic philanthropy. Women may well lead the charge, drawing upon their growing resources and clout to create a more just, egalitarian, and healthy society.
“Not everyone I’m around is philanthropic or in a position to be — though you don’t need to have lots of money,” Anne concludes. “You simply need the heart and the intellect to change your community in a positive way.”
Women control more of the financial pie than ever before. *
The IRS reports that 43 percent of the nation’s top wealth holders are women, with assets valued in total at $4.6 trillion. As a whole, women control more than half of private wealth in the U.S.
Women give 2x more money and are 9% more likely to give at all.
* Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), the research arm of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University