OPINION: The Future Of Philanthropy Is Female

A philanthropy advisor shares her best tips for harnessing your giving power—including how to use it to solve the issues that keep you up at night.


Elisabeth Williams

Founder, AWE Partners

Who She Is:

Elisabeth Williams founded AWE Partners in 2016. The boutique advisory firm educates women on how to give, invest, and shop for impact. Elisabeth works closely with female entrepreneurs who want to bake mission into their life and business for passion, purpose, and profit.

Elisabeth Williams sees the future of philanthropy as female.

The former banking officer launched AWE Partners in 2016 to advise women on how to give, invest, and shop for impact.

“Women in particular will be coming into substantial wealth over the next couple of decades, both in what they inherit and also in what they earn. They need guidance on how to invest it well, but also how to give it away well,” Elisabeth said.

The gender wage gap is shrinking for millenial women, according to the Pew Research Center, and women will inherit 70% of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth that is expected to change hands over the next 40 years.

I asked Elisabeth to share her best tips for aspiring and veteran philanthropists alike. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: How is the philanthropy landscape evolving right now?

A: Social impact advising has historically been reserved for the ultra-wealthy elite. When you tell women who are not in that wealth category that there are resources available to help them be more effective in their giving, they just light up. When you tell a business owner she can create a giving program through her business and incorporate her team and clients into the effort, again, she just lights up. I see an incredible potential in this movement toward meaning and the ability to bring more and more women into this process. We need to recognize that everyone has gifts to share, regardless of how much wealth you have.

We can’t rely on just the quote-on-quote leaders to solve our problems. It’s really being left to each of us individually to do our part, which is really exciting.

Q: How might you advise a novice philanthropist who is just beginning to think about how giving fits into her life?

A: Many people just launch into philanthropy or are haphazard about their approach. Before you run headlong into doing something, spend a little bit of time thinking about it first in quiet. That might mean meditation, prayer, journaling or spending time in nature. Listen to what your life is calling you to do. There is a place where you are meant to serve, and you want to try to understand where that might be. You have unique gifts and talents. That takes time to uncover, but the earlier you start to listen for that, the greater impact you can have. Once you have an idea of why you’re here, then you can start to take a more intentional and strategic approach to the outer work or the impact.

Q: What is a portfolio of giving, and why do you advise clients to develop one?

A: A giving portfolio identifies the causes and issues that are most important to you—the things you are passionate about, the things that keep you up at night, the things that break your heart. What are those causes and issues? This is the backbone of your portfolio. It is something that’s very personal to you, and it is something that can be created at any time. It can stay the same or be adjusted at any time. The nice thing about creating a portfolio of giving is that you know where your focus is and when you have requests for funding come up, you know whether or not it fits into your portfolio of giving.

Q: What’s the most difficult part about creating a giving portfolio?

A: When I give my clients a list of causes and issues, it’s difficult to narrow down because most of us feel like they’re all important—and they are all important. But we have to believe that if we focus on a couple of issues, and everyone else focuses on a couple of issues that together, as a giving community, we will address all of those important issues. To be effective, it’s really important to narrow our focus to no more than one to three issues. When you are just starting out, you probably should focus on one issue. If you are farther along in your giving, you may be able to address more. It depends on where you are in life and how much time you have to give to this process.

Q: How has your giving portfolio changed over time?

A: My father died of colon cancer when I was 18. Obviously, you would believe that would lead me to be very interested in issues dealing with cancer. But over time, I was led to focus on women’s empowerment. That was a really interesting shift for me because I have a husband and two sons. I don’t have young daughters. But I was seeing things happen in my own family and with close friends and family, particularly with younger women. It had such a profound effect on me. I felt like there was work to be done to ensure that we were providing a very positive message to young women. I felt like my voice was one that I needed to lend to that conversation. You never know how your personal experiences will lead you to new causes.

Q: Once you’ve identified the cause that matters most to you, what next?

A: The next step is to identify the most effective organizations addressing those causes or issues. You want to make sure that you are supporting organizations that have the ability to move the needle with the right resources—the funding, the time, and the talent you can share, and you might bring others on board to share their funding, time and talent.

There are organizations out there, like GlobalGiving, that do this sort of vetting work. This is their area of expertise.

They’re digging deep and determining who is really doing effective work in the field. They’ll help you identify which organizations to align yourself with—so you know your time, talent, and treasure are focused on the most effective organizations.

Q: What is one thing you wish more people knew about giving?

A: We tend to think of giving as being important to the recipient. But real giving happens in both the giving and the receiving. There is tremendous research that shows the benefits of giving, including health benefits. Our stress levels are lowered. Our immune system is bolstered. We actually get a hit of dopamine every time we give. That could be giving in any form—sharing a smile with someone at the grocery store, taking care of a family member or buying a special gift for a friend. Giving in all forms leads to us being happier.

This interview, originally published in Forbes Woman, has been edited for length and clarity.

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Featured Photo: Support a Young Girls Leadership Academy in India by CREA

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