Women and philanthrophy

Why is it that when women get to a certain age, they focus on being philanthropic and the non-profit world vs the profit world and angel investing?

Over the last few weeks, I have had a few conversations around investing in women.  These are not with people entrenched in the start-up world who have been following the chaos of bad behavior in the industry so they really don’t know about it.

I made a decision over a decade ago to focus on funding women and that decision evolved into a women’s conference (the Women’s Entrepreneur Festival) and more.   This was way before any of these daily conversations were taking place around supporting the next generation of female founders.  Yet when I speak to people, and I am talking about people who are 50 and over, about what I have done and care about, the first response is “do you know this woman who runs this non-profit organization to help women.”?  Or I am told about a woman they know who is involved in a non-profit organization helping women and do I want to meet her?

I have perfected saying no at this point but my answer to these conversations has changed.  I am interested in the profit world, not the non-profit world.  I want to support the next generation of women who are building businesses that make money for themselves, their investors, and are changing the way we live our lives.  That is how I am supporting women and I wish more women who have the means, the smarts, the experience and the energy would shift their focus to investing in these women.

It is certainly important to support non-profit organizations doing impactful work but if you look at the landscape of men vs women who are getting behind these philanthropic ventures at a later stage in their lives, it is more women than men.  Men continue to stay plugged into the work world, perhaps in different ways, but they want to stay part of the conversation around change in the profit world, they want to continue to be in the game although at a different pace.

Maybe men’s careers define them more than it defines women.  I honestly don’t know the right answer or perhaps there are many answers but if we are going to change the dynamics around women in business then more women need to be supporting female founders with funding vs pouring all their excess capital into philanthropic efforts.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Susan Rubinsky

    Interesting questions. Maybe men and women both define themselves by their work but women, in general, care more about doing good and sustainability than earning a profit. Or, maybe women have been (partially) shaped by a culture that leads them to careers in non-profit. Probably there are a lot of factors. I also think men have been cultured to be the provider and to care more about profit. Lots of moving parts.

    1. Gotham Gal

      moving parts….for sure.

  2. Tracey Jackson

    I think there is no question, for women who want to remain active after a certain age the options dwindle down to very few things. If a woman has started and run her own business at an earlier age its still going strong she keep it up until she decides to quit. But most women work for others and as they age their jobs disappear, If a woman is a big star in a glamorous field by say 45 she can hold on to 60 – 65 depending on the level of success and the business. I have written quite about about this in terms of media and fashion. But for most women who have been in the workforce they start getting aged out and they have two choices, really, either start up their own business or go work for free and feel like they are making a difference in some way. Sadly, it’s set up to age us out and we have to fight tooth and nail to stay in. Non- for- profit work and philanthropy of some sort is often the only answer to staying relevant, engaged,needed and busy. And most woman don’t have the funds for angel investing much less even starting up their own businesses or very likely they would. Sad but true. But very important conversation to have and one I have with myself on a daily basis.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Even though many don’t have the financial means, they can figure out how to get involved with profit businesses by getting involved in the start-up land with their knowledge. Not easy but it can be done.

      1. Tracey Jackson

        Honestly, though most of the guys in start up are young and want a 50 plus women around like a third head. I happen to be working with, advising these cool young guys in LA with a start up and they reached out to me. And they in turn are giving me advice on something I am doing. But it’s rare and there is seldom money involved. 25 – 30 year old guys don’t want “mom” around all day. I learned this in Film and TV.

        1. Gotham Gal

          that’s great you are doing that. #slowchange

        2. Lisa Abeyta

          The 2015 US Census Bureau’s Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs was just released this month, and it shows the bulk of founders in the US are 45 years old and up, with the largest age bracket being 55-64. https://factfinder.census.g

          1. Gotham Gal

            Interesting. I’d be curious what type of companies.

          2. Lisa Abeyta

            Quite a bit of interesting women and minority specific data in the report. I did find this about industries: “Sectors with the highest number of employer firms were professional, scientific and technical services (787,376); construction (652,561); retail trade (649,870); and health care and social assistance (640,655).” https://www.census.gov/news

          3. Gotham Gal

            Interesting. Will take a look

          4. Tracey Jackson

            I believe that anyone smart over 45 does start their own company. It’s good to hear the numbers are high. I think the bold ones go for it. Many are not bold or have ideas and end up as Joanne says in philanthropy- which is a good thing as someone has to. Thank you for that stat. A lot of boomers with a lot of life left in them. We need to make things happen!

          5. LE

            I believe that anyone smart over 45 does start their own company.Do you really mean that? (I will even ignore the use ‘smart’ which could also be viewed as ‘dumb’.). When you are over 45 you potentially are more likely to be married and you might have children (who will be approaching college age). It’s quite different to take that type of risk when you have a home, mortgage to pay and a family to support (even if you are married and if your spouse works). And when you are using your own money and not pitching investors. Much much easier when younger and you have nothing to loose and a full life ahead to make up for any mistakes that you make.Many are not bold That’s one way of looking at it but it’s also being practical and not taking chances on a dream with a high bar of potential success and very easy to loose your shirt.Now if you are talking about people of ‘means’ (and maybe you are because you are mentioning ‘philanthropy’) then sure it certainly seems more interesting, more of a challenge and more fun to start a business than do philanthropy.Separately while the parents data highlight ‘largest bracket being 55-65’ that is not necessarily what is considered the startups that most angels, vc’s and Joanne are investing in. Those are probably established small entrepreneurial businesses that survived and are more meat and potatoes type businesses. (They are the bar mitzvah and wedding singers of the music industry let’s say…)

      2. pointsnfigures

        not easy for sure, but I agree with you. It’s hard fitting in.

  3. lynnerae

    This is a very important observation, Joanne, and one I haven’t heard made. I believe part of the reason is that <in general=””> women over 50 are not as comfortable around technology, and therefore are drawn to more familiar social/cultural-impact endeavors to devote time and funding to. I believe it is likely the same cultural stereotypes (evident in the comments below) that are at the root of this issue — and those which have caused the absolute decline in numbers of women in tech careers. Perhaps what is needed are informational programs to educate these mature/experienced women on how exciting and rewarding tech investing can be. I *know* tech can be incredibly creative, intuitive, and energizing — and it is not limited to 20-year-old guys as its leaders. Further, if you want to talk about *impact* (caring about doing good and sustainability) — just imagine the future you are empowering when you support more women founders? That’s supporting real social change at its core. I might add that I take issue with a few of the comments below about how “women over a certain age” aren’t welcome, or are viewed as “mom”. It’s simply not true. I started a VC (Seed) fund right around age 50, and I can assure you that founders do not discriminate when being provided with experience-based advice, introductions to key people, and/or funding. And while my (male) partner may receive the first email outreach, once the relationship is built with our founder teams, I am the one they text (occasionally, at midnight) with questions, problems to work through, or advice needed. Perhaps it is a more natural relationship. I applaud you for the responses you are giving these women. We need more women involved in all aspects of new business creation, and a critical part of that is funding.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I agree…education is always the core. Hats off to you for starting a VC firm at 50!

  4. Erin

    Damn, those are some revealing conversations. I bet this is something similar to what minority groups like First Nations or African Americans experience- an expectation that those who rise to the top will “give back to the community”. White men don’t necessarily have to pay those dues.

  5. pointsnfigures

    I know a person that is totally sick of doing philanthropy. Just wants to do something meaningful to herself. It’s not about the money, it’s about how she spends her time. But, she doesn’t want a “job”. In Chicago, women run and have always run philanthropy. Historically it goes back to Bertha Palmer. https://en.wikipedia.org/wi… In many cases, the male networks in Chicago can’t get shit done. You have to include, or persuade the women to get involved. Without em, any effort is guaranteed to fail.