Martha Taylor | A career devoted to women’s philanthropy

MarthaMs. Martha A. Taylor

VP of Development, Principal Gifts and Women’s Philanthropy Council at the University of Wisconsin Foundation, since 1975

GREATNESS: an outstanding fundraising professional, pioneer and leader in the international women’s philanthropy movement.


Meet Martha, who I like to call the “mother” of the women’s philanthropy movement in the USA. If you study philanthropy through a female lens like me, you have already heard of Martha and come across her work. She has crafted a stellar career with a life-long focus on fundraising. She wrote her master’s thesis on fundraising in higher education more than 40 years ago. Then she moved up the advancement ranks at the University of Wisconsin Foundation, becoming the first woman vice president of development in the Big Ten.

Martha’s tireless advocacy of women donors and prospects is what caught this prospect researcher’s attention. In 1988, she co-founded the UW Foundation’s Women’s Philanthropy Council, the first women’s major gift program at a co-ed university. It’s a program she leads to this day. Not stopping there, she and Sondra Shaw-Hardy co-founded and co-directed the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, now part of the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, to increase philanthropy by women to all causes. Along with Shaw-Hardy, she wrote the first major book on women’s philanthropy, which won the Grenzebach Research Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. 2015 represents the twentieth anniversary of that important work.

Her numerous accolades, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals to the YWCA, are highly-deserved.

Did I mention she’s an enthusiastic and supportive interview subject? I had a chance to speak with Martha last week, asking her some lofty questions about her interest and motivation in advancing women’s philanthropy.

“Twenty years worth of work in three sound bytes?” she asked as we first started our talk. Still, she didn’t hesitate to offer thoughtful, candid answers with characteristically mid-western graciousness.

On Anonymity

Martha wanted to dive right in to my question about why many women tend to remain anonymous with their major giving. I sent her two recent examples of major alumnae giving to Smith College and Wellesley College – $10M and $50M respectively – where the donors chose not to be named.

“I just found that so interesting,” Martha said.

“The fact they wanted to remain anonymous, doesn’t surprise me. But I still ask – why? That’s the way it is.”

When I asked her whether she thought anonymity is a generational issue, without any hesitation, she said, “No.”

Having worked with many women donors and prospects on their philanthropic planning throughout her career, some have told her:

“Get used to it, Martha, we don’t want to [be named].

“They want to be part of a group. That’s one of the key differences in giving by men versus women. Women respond to peer inclusiveness.

“It’s a big thing for women to pool smaller gifts – collaborative giving and making challenge gifts,” Martha said.

“These gifts are probably from baby boomer women, the age when their philanthropy is coming to fuller fruition. Older [civic generation] women have already made their lead gifts to their colleges.”

[Editor’s Note: must segment latest SYBUNT list by generation, that is if we track this data point in our system.]

On Philanthropic Women

When you manage to get the co-founder of the WPI on the phone, you just let her talk:

“People didn’t think women were making the [giving] decisions in the household, so they weren’t being approached to give. The woman’s interests weren’t being heard [by fundraisers].

“Women were disenfranchised by philanthropy. They weren’t being [exposed]. Women learn about philanthropy by being asked!

“That’s all changing now. We hope,” Martha said.

On Prospect Researching Women

Of course, I asked Martha what tips or advice she had for prospect researchers like me, on identifying and researching women.

First, focus on existing loyal donors:

“Look at women who have given your organization $100 each year for the past twenty years,” she noted.

Also, take a look at women who give to community foundations, since they offer a popular vehicle for philanthropic planning. (Martha currently serves on the Madison Community Foundation’s board and gives to their women’s fund.)

“The best indicators for women’s giving are indicators we don’t track in our databases,” she said, citing the work of her colleague Kathleen Loehr with whom Martha recently co-addressed the Minnesota Planned Giving Council.

“CRM systems are particularly bad for crediting women, recognizing women, tracking women. They’ve gotten worse!” Martha noted.

“Keeping in mind education and zip code [in my case, postal code] are stable…”

Just as Martha was getting ready to list off the top qualitative indicators prospect researchers could look for in identifying women from the database, the phone line dropped.

We got back on track quickly for Martha’s top tips:

  • frequency of worship – actively religious, especially among the baby boomers and older generations, who are prime prospects now.
  • number of children. Some studies have shown that number of children isn’t [a likelihood indicator] for very wealthy families, but it is important to note for upper-middle class donors.
  • source of money. This will help you understand the psychological relationship the woman has with money [and parting with it; giving it away]. Three ways to source money:

Inherit the money | Marry the money | Earn the money, or a combination.

“It’s a very different dynamic with inheritors,” Martha said. “Source of money isn’t something development officers and prospect researchers tend to track in our databases at the moment. These indicators aren’t on prospect radar screens.

“Take a look at the research from the Lilly School of Philanthropy. Then think about what indicators are searchable in our data systems? What do we keep track of? We’re not taking advantage of all this good research out there on women.

“It’s going to be a slow process,” Martha noted.

On Personal Recognition

“Women donors’ biggest pet peeve with non-profits is crediting their gifts. Not public recognition [like a cheque presentation or a donor reception], but personal recognition. Having the CEO and key people in the organization know who they are, value and appreciate them as donors. That’s what they want.

“One of the key ways to show them appreciation is to credit their gifts correctly. Have acknowledgement letters addressed both to them and their men. Solicit women for gifts directly, not all of the time, but some of the time.”

Great advice on research and stewardship from a great woman in our field!








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