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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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Moresky speculated that nonprofit and political fundraising are different in ways that might be particularly alienating to women: “[A] nonprofit is a do-good cause. Politics is combative, one person against the other.” This divide is echoed by Michaele Ferguson, a professor at University of Colorado Denver, who in her article ChoiceFeminismandtheFearofPolitics describes the attraction of ideology-free affirmation for women afraid to be judgmental or radical in ways that challenge entrenched power (like, say, billionaires seeking to secretly influence elections). Raising money for nonpartisan nonprofits, or even organizations with strong political values, that nevertheless are above the brutal competition of direct campaigns, is clearly appealing to many women.

Yet even if women are able to exercise a newly valuable form of power by fundraising for nonprofits, without a corresponding presence in the field of political fundraising, they are forfeiting an avenue for political power otherwise well-suited to their talents. Amy Goldman, one of the few prominent super-PAC donors who has given $1 million to PACs supporting Obama and Planned Parenthood, articulated this very realpolitik approach: "Electoral politics has changed this year, so women need to rethink their strategies and begin to support these new entities, which can be an enormous and powerful force for good."

Eventually, electoral pragmatism pays dividends for those who prefer to work in the nonprofit sector. The very fact that thought leaders in the field have to ask whether philanthropy can make up for the absence of government funding suggests that the nonprofit sector can no longer be divorced from the policies that dictate its burdens. Fundraising for nonprofits may be nominally apolitical, but those on the front lines, with the skills, networks and confidence necessary to shape not only their organizations’ futures but the country’s, should not hesitate to ply their talents in the political arena, which needs their voices and their cash more than ever.

Amy Schiller writes about politics, feminism, philanthropy and pop culture. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Salon, Alternet, Heeb, and other publications. She previously worked for five years as a political organizer and non-profit fundraising consultant. You can read more at amybessschiller.com or email her at abschill@gmail.com.

 
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