B y Heidi Marttila-Losure
A few years ago, when I was editing a women’s magazine published by The Tribune in Ames, Iowa, I covered a women’s philanthropy event at Iowa State University. The speaker that day was a woman named Kay Ballard, and she wasn’t afraid to get the audience a little riled.
Here’s part of what I wrote after that event:
“Women’s philanthropic leadership is fundamental to women advancing in society,” said Ballard, a philanthropic consultant … from Washington, D.C. “We have to learn to seek and use power… so we can accomplish more.”
But Ballard said many women don’t recognize the power they hold.
“When I see women giving money in a powerless way, it makes me cranky,” she said. Ballard gave several examples, including one about a group of professional women that sponsored a craft fair to raise money for scholarships.
“If fellowships or scholarships are something you want to see happen, and your first thought is, ‘Let me get my glue gun,'” Ballard said, “think again, please!”
While it was once true that what women had to offer was limited to their time and what they could scrounge from their pantries or scrap boxes, that is no longer the case, she said. Increasingly, women are managing the assets they and their families have accumulated over many years, and that means they can think beyond craft
fairs to effect the change they want to see in their communities.
“If something’s important to you,” Ballard said, “it’s time to get out your checkbook.”
(“Think checkbooks, not craft fairs,” The Tribune, May 16, 2007)
Ballard’s words came back to me when I was thinking of coverage for this issue of Dakotafire. She made two points that I think are very relevant to what’s happening in our communities today.
First, women are increasingly likely to have the financial means to make a difference in the causes they care about—and that’s only going to increase in the coming decades. The population pyramid graphics we’ve printed in previous issues, especially the ones projecting into the future, almost all have a top line teetering off to the right, showing that many women are going to outlive their husbands—and many of those women will inherit their family estates after their husbands pass on. In many cases, the person ultimately deciding what will happen when that estate passes to the next generation will be the wife, not the husband.
Second, the value of these estates is nothing like the “egg money” that, a few generations ago, made up the dollars and cents (mostly cents) that were in women’s control. Land values have skyrocketed. Some family businesses have been very successful. Some women are likely to have the experience that many farmers
had in our area last fall, when they were unused to seeing quite so many digits in their bank statements.
This will not be every woman’s experience, of course. But as a whole, in coming years women (and men, too) are going to have the financial power to make a difference in their communities in a way their grandmothers could never have dreamed of. The community savings accounts described in this issue suggest one powerful way we
can make a difference in our communities. Many other worthwhile causes could be transformed, and in turn could transform the lives of others, with a few generous gifts.
The transfer-of-wealth statistics highlighted in this issue suggest that if there’s a vision for a better future in your community, you don’t need to pin your hopes on a grant, an angel investor or some other “savior” swooping in from the outside. We have the wealth in our own hands to realize that vision. Moreover, this realization takes the power out of the “We just don’t have the money for that” thinking that stymies so many community improvement projects.
Here’s the challenge: That power can’t be realized unless we stop limiting our thinking to the confines of our pantries or scrap boxes. Our grandmothers did as much good as they could with what they had; it’s now time for us to make the most of what we find in our hands as well.