Women moving up in Jewish philanthropic world

ATLANTA — Want to make sure a charity is successful? Be sure there are plenty of women involved — both as donors and as leaders.

That was the message last month behind several United Jewish Communities' General Assembly sessions on women and philanthropy. Increasingly, women have more control over the family purse strings. And more of them are becoming leaders of Jewish charities.

"We're seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Carole Solomon, chair of the UJC annual campaign. "I really believe there is going to be an explosion in terms of responsibility for women's philanthropy and what it can accomplish."

Around the country, federations and other philanthropic groups are seeing more women on their boards and committees.

Solomon is the first female annual campaign chair in her organization's 60-year history. Now that she and others are shattering the glass ceilings of Jewish philanthropy, she asserts that women will have "more and more access" to leadership roles.

"All it takes," she said, "is for the door to open once."

Women who are moving into the spotlight are harnessing both money and power in the Jewish charitable world.

"One has to learn where the real power lies and not be afraid of it," Shoshana Cardin told a group of female philanthropists at the General Assembly. "Power used wisely is very effective."

Cardin, who lives in Baltimore, is the immediate past president of United Israel Appeal and current president of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

For her part, Solomon sees women getting more comfortable in positions of power. "We are more confident," she said. Women "are using the resources in ways that does, indeed, open doors."

Women now provide 22 percent of the revenue of the UJC annual campaign — and comprise the fastest growing segment of it.

Money "most definitely opens the door," Solomon said. "At the end of the day…he who has the most gold rules."

Women also are increasingly being entrusted with control of large family foundations. Why that is so is still unknown, but the result is that women have more and more dollars passing through their hands — both on local and national levels.

"Women's ability to give money is huge," said Gloria Minkin, past chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta women's campaign. "In a two-person household, women affect what the gift is. Women are independently wealthy, and women realize the need to set their own standards. The potential is enormous."

A new focus on women as donors is "ground-breaking," said Shelley Sarver, co-chair of the Women and Philanthropy Task Force for the St. Louis Jewish Federation. "It's a pretty important milestone recognizing that women control money."

The St. Louis federation has identified four groups of women to court as donors: widows and women over 55; the wife in the traditional "Mr. and Mrs." donors, women who have or inherit wealth, and high-level professional women.

What they found, Sarver said, is that "all are promising and all are important in different ways. [Women] have more control over the money in their family. And clearly, over the next generation, they will have control over more money."

But while women may control the spending at home, they are still scarce on philanthropic finance and budget committees.

Cynthia Shulman, chair of the board of combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, said that women are much more numerous on "what are traditionally called 'soft committees.'"

That, she asserts, is changing.

Solomon said that both genders share responsibility for the shortage of women in financial leadership.

"To some extent it's been a natural thing for committees to look to a businessman to head budget and finance committees," Solomon said. "At the same time women, traditionally — that's the place they almost tried to avoid because of lack of comfort and expertise."

That, she said, must change — and women have to make it happen. If minorities — in this case women — don't comprise at least a third of a committee, they have no voice.

"Women have to actively seek positions of financial responsibility," Solomon said. "I think they have to demonstrate they can do it and take advantage of the opportunities they have to learn."

It's a change, she says, driven by more than a need to better the lot of women.

"Any organization that doesn't open it's doors to the participation of women suffers tremendously," Solomon said. "We make things happen." That, combined with increased access to money and a natural drive, "is a combination I don't think can be beat."