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Why Are Women Mostly on the Sidelines for Political Fundraising Battles?

Women dominate do-gooder nonprofit fundraising jobs, but without a corresponding presence in the field of political fundraising, they're forfeiting an avenue for political power.

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Women in Development, a networking association with chapters in New York, Boston and New Jersey, tracesthedramaticincrease on its Web site. At its inception in the mid-1980s, WiD New York was an informal networking group for the few women working in the field. By 1999, women were 61 percent of fundraisers and today they far outnumber men.

Theoretically, this trend should spell increased power in influential institutions that shape our public culture and policy. According to Changing Our World director of research Susan Raymond, “the C-suite of nonprofit institutions is becoming more inclined towards private resource mobilization…the three trends are natural turnover in leadership, the new skill set required for leadership, and that skill set increasingly being held by women who have come up through the fundraising ranks.” Consider the job of university president, now held by record numbers of women like Harvard’s Drew Gilpin Faust, Princeton’s Shirley Tilghman, Penn’s Amy Goodman, and MIT’s Susan Hockfield, all of whom spend the vast majority of their time raising money. The profile of future leaders is increasingly fundraising focused and therefore should be increasingly female.

The competition for private dollars, now a strong imperative in political and nonprofit initiatives, favors those who are trained to state a strong case and make big asks of those capable of giving. Given that criteria, we may be looking at a moment where women are well-positioned to rise to leadership roles just as the very definition of leadership, even in the public and civil-society sectors, depends on the persuading the wealthy to be increasingly generous.

But will this profile of leadership extend into electoral politics? One example of a fast trajectory based on fundraising expertise is the career of Julianna Smoot, now deputy campaign manager of the 2012 Obama campaign after serving as Obama’s finance director in 2008 (raising more money than any race in history), and Senate races of Tom Daschle and John Edwards. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz isnow chair of the Democratic National Committee, with a major focus on raising money to support Democratic candidates at the local, state and national levels. Senator Kristin Gillibrand and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords advanced quickly on the basis of their prodigious fundraising abilities – a 2009 NewYorkMagazineprofile noted that Gillibrand raised $2.3 million in 90 days for her Senate campaign and she recently took a trip through London, Paris and Geneva to raise campaign funds. Anyone with the chutzpah to raise money for an American political campaign in the capitals of Europe is certainly a role model for women looking to make it rain, maximally.

Yet according to a recent CBS story, womenarefarbehindinpolitical donations and fundraising, especially within the newly emboldened super PACs. “One look at the list of donors bankrolling these groups makes one thing clear: This new element of American politics is overwhelmingly dominated by men.” The piece reported that of the approximately $31 million given by women, $15 million came from Miriam Adelson, wife of veteran Republican bankroller Sheldon Adelson. Meanwhile, only 44 percent of Obama donors and 31 percent of Romney donors are women. Making large gifts is generally a prerequisite for asking others to do the same, so as women remain on the sidelines as super-PAC donors, it stands to reason that they are also abstaining from mobilizing other potential donors, even for progressive causes like Planned Parenthood.

Lana Moresky, a major Democratic fundraiser, noted that even reliable female donors recoiled from making their regular gifts. “One donor, a very reliable max-out giver to any campaign where I asked for her support, mentioned she felt discouraged by the huge amounts of money going into super PACs and concerned that her gifts would have little to no impact.” Moresky added this was an area of grave concern for her, because “the money that really drives the direction of politics…if we want to be influential, it’s key for women to be involved…I can’t say that enough."

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