The woman behind the country’s first women’s fund believes New Zealand needs to have a more focused gender lens on giving, she tells Suzanne McFadden.

Dellwyn Stuart reckons her friends at Te Puke High School would have voted her “most likely to give Red Cross parcels to people in need”. They wouldn’t have been far off the mark.

Altruism has become her career, and now she’s breaking new ground. Stuart is the founder of the Women’s Fund, the first philanthropic collective focusing on women in New Zealand; a group of women who essentially want to pool their money and mete it out to causes that will help women and girls.

She knows there’s a place for it. International research shows women give more generously to charity than men. And she doubts that it’s any different in New Zealand.

“When a women receives a gift, grant or a win, she will share it with her whānau, neighbourhood or community, and you get this lovely ripple benefit,” Stuart says. “So when you fund a women’s group you get this exponential investment upside. I think our philanthropic community in New Zealand hasn’t considered bringing a gender lens to the way grants are made.”

The first 50 women to have signed up to the Women’s Fund are a miscellaneous group – among them students and young entrepreneurs, company directors, university academics and retirees.  Stuart falls squarely in the middle.

The charitable field isn’t where she was initially heading. She has swapped the corporate empires of Carter Holt Harvey and BNZ, for the philanthropic world of Cure Kids and the Auckland Foundation, of which she is now CEO.

A mother of three children, she lives in Auckland’s still-rural Kumeu, drawn to the country having grown up on a farm in the Bay of Plenty. She had a “strong, fabulous mother” who constantly told her that girls could do anything. “That makes me think what do we tell our daughters now?” she says.

“Another of my mother’s mantras was ‘Put yourself in their shoes, Dellwyn. Just for a minute, stop and think about them.’ It ingrained an empathy in me.

“Women are still brought up in a construct that’s around caring and sharing and putting others first – in a way that boys aren’t, universally. And that colours the way we think about generosity and giving.”

“There’s also that thing about rural life. It’s not insular; you’re very much part of a community. ‘My beans have gone crazy; who can I give beans to?’ There was always the idea of sharing time, wisdom, money, green beans. Those two things of country communal life and empathy are natural to me.”

She came to realise there were many New Zealand women like her, who wanted to help make change for other women, but weren’t sure how or where to give. While speaking to benefactors through the Auckland Foundation – a not-for-profit which makes community grants from private philanthropy – she learned that there was something different about the way women approached giving.

While she couldn’t find research on women’s philanthropy in New Zealand, she discovered some arresting statistics in the United States which support that view. “Women are still brought up in a construct that’s around caring and sharing and putting others first – in a way that boys aren’t, universally. And that colours the way we think about generosity and giving,” she says.

“We also have different relationships and views about money as women. For men, money often means success, prestige and arriving. For women, it represents the idea of freedom and the ability to get things done. It’s a resource, as opposed to a trophy.”

So it’s not surprising to Stuart that women give more; in one study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, baby-boomer and older women gave 89 percent more to charity than men their age. “We see money as a way of getting things done and we want to make change happen with our giving,” she says of women.

That same study, Women Give 2012, found that females in the top 25 percent of income and assets gave 156 percent more than their male counterparts. Debra Mesch, the director of the institute, hoped the statistics would encourage charities to consider the differences in giving patterns and behaviour of men and women.  

Another interesting characteristic Stuart observed is that women often make many, smaller gifts, while men tend to give fewer, big gifts.

“For men it’s around a motivation to give to support and protect institutions that they value in society. They’re naturally attracted to give back to their old school, their university, the local hospital that needs a new machine, things that they see as important,” she says.

“That’s not a criticism at all, but women are much more motivated to say ‘I want to give because I want to change something, and because I am driven when I have empathy’. So unsurprisingly, when collective giving arrived for women, those groups have tended to focus on giving to girls and women because they get it. Our great Kiwi one-size-fits-all philosophy is not necessarily useful when it comes to giving.”

There are around 250 women’s funds around the world, aimings to bring generous women together, pool their contributions, and make significant grants to make an impact in an area they care about. Stuart attended a conference for the worldwide network of women’s funds in San Francisco last September, with the theme Tools for Turbulent Times. “It was like a great university 101 for a new women’s fund,” she says.

“The whole idea around a gender lens in your giving is just like glasses: it corrects your sight. So it’s not about giving more to girls, it’s about how do I get my granting aligned so I clearly see and meet the needs of boys, and I clearly see and meet the needs of girls.”

The New Zealand Women’s Fund began last November, and had 50 women signed up by Christmas. Among the early supporters are Kate Tindall Lum of the Tindall Foundation, social change documentary-maker Qiujing Easterbrook-Wong, and successful businesswoman Wynnis Armour.

There are also young students, who Stuart says can’t afford to give a lot, but who want to be part of a collective. A study by US charity fund Fidelity Charitable found millennial women are more likely to give to a wide variety of causes than baby boomer women, and care more about gender-based causes.  

“If you’re building a collective, participative group, you want it to represent the place you live in,” Stuart says. “If we said you had to give $1000 a year, we would get a lot of middle class, well-meaning people, but we might not get those in their later years or students starting out.

“So we’ve deliberately said you can give anything. And we’ve got people giving $5, people giving $5000, and everything in between. So it means for our first 50 we have quite a diverse group.”

It’s Stuart’s aim to have 150 women in the fund by the end of this year. In an effort to raise the awareness of the fund and women’s giving, a summit themed “Women Give 2018” will be held in Auckland on Tuesday. It’s already a sold-out affair. 

“I want to celebrate women’s giving and recognise that it’s different if you are a millennial or a baby boomer, a Māori woman or a refugee. We all bring different motivations in our giving,” she says. “Let’s also understand how we’re doing as women.”

In her exploration into creating a women’s fund, Stuart tried to find out what proportion of funding in New Zealand was going to help women and girls. “I asked a large funder who couldn’t answer because it was not a criteria they had,” she says.

“The whole idea around a gender lens in your giving is just like glasses: it corrects your sight. So it’s not about giving more to girls, it’s about how do I get my granting aligned so I clearly see and meet the needs of boys, and I clearly see and meet the needs of girls. 

“Overseas they say that in the philanthropic dollar, only eight-nine cents goes specifically to girls and women. That information comes from the US and Australia, and I wouldn’t expect us to be vastly different from that.

“We know there’s need to help women, when we have statistics that say there’s a nine percent gap in pay parity overall, but it’s 32 percent if you are a Pacific Island woman. We know women have trouble with transition points in life – education to work, work to parenthood. Women are 80 percent of our single parent households, and they have the highest degree of housing poverty.”

Just who is granted the collective money has yet to be determined by the fund, whose donors will meet regularly to decide on recipients. “There isn’t a simple answer but it will go to women and girls, and their challenges and wellbeing,” she says.

The grants, Stuart says, will be modest in the first year as the fund gets established. “We can potentially make some small grants to women who are getting change started, and who need what I call the ‘I believe in you’ money: I believe in what you’re doing, and you don’t have to fill in 12 forms and tell me how you used every cent. Tell us your stories.

“I think we can find change-makers in the community, women who are getting on with making things happen, in recognition of the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. That was also women coming together saying “Enough is enough and we can change this’.” And there is no better time to make change for women, she says.

Suzanne McFadden, the 2021 Voyager Media Awards Sports Journalist of the Year, founded LockerRoom, dedicated to women's sport.

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