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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.
The 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for an unlimited infusion of cash in political campaigns. Forget the quaint $2,500 caponindividual contributions; super PACS have unleashed the war chests of the 1 percent. Right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s $10 million gift to the Romney campaign was just the beginning. Fellow conservative bank-roller FosterFriessadmitted on camera that he is working to coordinate his friends: “I’ve reached out to a number of potential donors who [weren’t] involved so much before to help Gov. Romney with his Restore Our Future PAC.”

In other words, the guy who thinks an aspirin between your knees is the best method of birth control could is putting together a secret funding cabal to bankroll right-wing politicians.

Meanwhile, private donations are increasingly important in the nonprofit world as well. Government contracts have evaporated for many human services agencies, state budgets have slashed funding for public universities, earned revenue has dwindled for media outlets, and subscriptions for arts and culture institutions have taken a major hit, leaving a broad range of institutions scrambling for a new stable base of revenue. Changing Our World, a fundraising consultancy, publishedapaper in2011 on the potential for private philanthropy to fill gaps in health care, education and human services left by massive public deficits. According to the report, nonprofits in those sectors now would need 30-50 percent more in donations to make up the losses of government support – the equivalent of the gains made over five years during a boom economy.

Arguably, the influx of private expenditures into our electoral processes and the increasing dependency on private largesse in the nonprofit sector are part of the same tide. As Senator Bernie Sanders put it, " wearemovingtowardanoligarchictypeofsociety." The same narrow slice of the population will now be the funding source for both the political campaigns that determine our leaders, and for the nonprofit sector that provides social welfare. After all, among the top donors to super PACS, David Koch namedatheateratLincoln Center with a $100 million donation and has given tens of millions more to cancer research, while Sheldon Adelson funds medical researchandvariedcauseswithintheJewish community. On the left, James Simons is one of thetop50 giversintheUS with his support of autism research and math and science education (in public schools and universities, no less), while Jeffrey Katzenberg’s giving spans the AIDS Project, higher education, museums, and inner-city education.

Increasingly, any aspiring executive, whether in the White House or the local theater, will have to demonstrate a strong network and ability to persuade members of the wealthiest classes. The path to political and civil-society leadership has become metaphorically paved with gold.

In both the political and nonprofit spheres, any fundraising professional with a large network, preexisting relationships with wealthy prospective donors, and skills at closing big gifts should be well positioned to compete in the heated race for private cash. Troubling as this trend may be for our democracy, the marketplace could prove favorable to one constituency -- the women who fill the ranks of the fundraising profession.

Women make up close to 75 percent of the nonprofit fundraising field, according to Michael Nilsen of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. And over the past 30 years the field has become more and more dominated by women. Even within the past two years, hiring at a major fundraising consulting firm has increased to “sixty-something percent, when in 2010 it was 55 percent,” according to an executive at the firm.

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