Fifty percent of the population -five percent of the money

The US Foundation Center and Mama Cash, the Netherlands-based women’s fund have published a report on European foundation giving for women and girls (Untapped Potential: European Foundation Funding for Women and Girls, EFC and Mama Cash, Brussels 2011, available at


145 foundations from 19 countries took part in the survey (136 responded to the questionnaire), controlling an estimated €9.2 billion in assets. The research team describe the study as ‘exploratory’, citing the lack of overall market data on which to base sector-wide conclusions. The team used a mixture of questionnaire, grants sampling and analysis and interviews to gather their data.

Women and Girls

The report starts with the assertion that investing in women and girls is now the mainstream mode for NGOs and other development funders. It cites The Economist, 26 April 2006: Forget China, India and the Internet: economic growth is driven by women. And then it poses the question:

are European foundations providing funding for women and girls?

The answer is a depressing ‘no’. The median percentage of total foundation grant monies allocated for women and girls is only 4.8%. Fifty percent of the population get 5% of the money.

By contrast 90% of the foundations surveyed said that they were interested in at least one aspect of grant-making for women and girls. But that is a big gap between aspiration and reality, with most foundations allocating less than 10% of their grants to women and girls. The survey reports similar findings in analyses of foundation grant-making in the USA – a surprising result given the substantial number of women-led foundations in the US.


Violence against women, poverty among women and girls, and women’s and girls’ access to education emerged as the top three issues of interest to European foundations. While other issues were of less interest (lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights, and women’s and girls’ access to media, for example) the differences between the most popular and least popular topics was relatively small. In other words, foundations that support women and girls cover a wide range of interests. The authors then go on to measure the degree to which these interests are intentional, forming part of the DNA of the foundation. They found that 19% of foundations mentioned women and girls in their mission statement, and that these foundations had a tendency to support human rights and social justice initiatives.

The foundations that have been successful in supporting women and girls have taken a proactive stance on the subject, recruiting leadership who understand the importance of giving to women and girls, organising training programmes for staff, offering a flexible approach to grant-making and a focus on data and impacts.

The Wider Picture

The survey, one of very few broad surveys of European foundations, is useful also for the wider picture it paints of the sector. This type of overview data is vital in helping philanthropists and foundations to build strategies for partnership. The survey points out, for example, that the giving of 34% of foundations is internationally focused, and describes the link between geographic location and the grant-making patterns of foundations, with Northern European foundations less likely to support work with women and girls than those in Southern Europe. This seems counter-intuitive, but the authors reason that it may be the result of the stronger social policies favouring women and girls in Nordic countries, leaving foundations with less to do.

Grant-Making Patterns

The research team have done a good job of analysing grant-making patterns by geography, by target group and by foundation size. They show, for example, that the most favoured target group for foundations in Europe is children and youth, followed by the poor, people with disabilities and the elderly. Women and girls come 5th in the list of priorities.

In their analysis of the grants, the researchers have had to rely on relatively few grants � 396 grants for women and girls are analysed, with 306 of these made by foundations in Western Europe, principally, we suspect, grant-making trusts in the UK. So the findings have to be viewed with care. 45% of these grants go to human service projects, and 21% to human rights. 8% of grants went to health, and to arts and culture. Education got just 4% of the grants to women and girls (despite education being a priority for 73% of the foundations in the study.) An analysis of grants by value is not given.


Five foundations are studied in detail including the Sigrid Rausing Trust in the UK, the Oak Foundation in Switzerland and the King Baudouin Foundation in Belgium, along with one network of foundations, the Learning Bridges Initiative. The review looks at the decision making processes of the foundation in detail, and we can see the results of the interviews in these detailed descriptions.


The authors conclude on a positive note, looking at opportunities to expand and deepen foundation support for women. Frankly, with the median percentage of foundation funding for women and girls at 4.8%, it is hard to argue for anything but growth.

We are concerned with a couple of omissions. First, the research is focused on grants – which leaves us wondering about other forms of finance for women and girls. Microfinance is not analysed, and yet we know that many microcredit programmes are aimed at women. This is a gap that could be covered by future research.

Second, the geographic distribution of the foundations selected for the study means that foundations from all across Europe were surveyed. But there is a caveat – 36 of the 136 respondents were from the UK whereas only two each were from France or Spain, so the overall views expressed will be a bit more Anglo-Saxon than might be desired.

But these are minor criticisms of a well-constructed study relevant to the whole foundation sector in Europe. Weisblatt & associates have done a good job of the research, and we should be thankful to Mama Cash and the Foundation Center for taking the initiative.

What are the practical applications of this study? For philanthropists, it’s a call to action – to link their interest in funding programmes for women and girls to their grant programmes, and to put more money into these programmes. For foundations, it’s a thoughtful picture of where we are, a report that should encourage some reflection. For fundraising organisations it’s a useful guide to the current foundation market, its interests, its current practices and its potential.