Today, as women across the country head to the polls for the midterm elections, many of us will also have dedicated time and money as candidates, volunteers, or voters to support the candidates or causes we care about the most. The work doesn’t stop once your ballot is cast. Women are increasingly using their dollars to amplify their political voices—but you don’t need an election year or a massive bank account to make your voice heard.
A report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute revealed that women are the ones leading the charge when it comes to embracing charitable giving as a means of civic engagement. According to the report, women’s giving to top 501(c)3 charities significantly increased compared to men’s in weeks following the 2016 presidential election. The report found that in the week before the election, women gave an average of $1,586 more than their male counterparts. In the week after the election, the difference between women and men’s giving more than doubled to $3,905.
Regardless of your income level, engaging in philanthropy can be a powerful way to actively support the ideas you champion at the polls or within your own activism. For political campaigns or mission-driven organizations, financial resources often make the crucial difference between success and failure. Philanthropy is not the “soft stuff”—it’s the platform women can embrace to wield economic power to create meaningful, purpose-driven change.
Understand the power in your money.
Let’s be honest: Money is a tough subject to broach, and for some of us the idea of using money as a tool to influence change can seem greedy or corrupt. But consider the type of impact money can have when it’s rooted in your values.
When you align charitable giving with your passions, you’re investing to create sustainable impact. Think of it this way: If advocacy is the engine of change, money is the fuel that sustains and propels advocacy campaigns. In addition to the variety of hands-on ways you can support nonprofits or political causes, like volunteering and canvassing, one of the simplest and most effective ways to create impact is through donations.
Through charitable giving—even at small amounts—you are supporting both the real-time actions of nonprofit programs, like after-school activities, as well as the large-scope projects like bringing an advocacy campaign to national scale. (For more on assessing impact, read on.)
You don’t need to be rich to give.
Whether you’re donating $5 a month or becoming a major contributor, your money can go the extra mile to support the causes you care about.
If large donations are like the ice cream in a sundae, then small donations function like toppings. Nonprofits rely on that extra bit of cash to provide paper and pens to classrooms, or print an additional banner or two. The small donations help organizations go that extra mile. The organization Givewell details what a select group of high-impact charities can do with donations as small as a few dollars.
In order to determine what type of giving is within your means, you first need to create a basic monthly budget, which includes set dollar amounts for things like rent, internet bills and a gym membership. With basic costs taken care of, you should have about 30 percent set aside to play with. Try to find room among these expenses—like Starbucks runs and Spotify—to add monthly charitable donations into the mix. On average, people donate anywhere from 3 percent to 10 percent of their income—but there’s no “minimum” required to make a difference.
If a monthly donation does not fit within your budget, try first committing to a once-a-year donation. To make your dollar stretch farther, be on the lookout for matching campaigns, especially around the time of Giving Tuesday on November 27th. You can use your birthday as a chance to fundraise. Facebook’s fundraising feature is an easy way to ask for donations from friends and family. Platforms like Crowdrise or GoFundMe can engage your network in helping you raise money for a cause you care about.
You can also set up an Amazon Smile account where a portion of everything you spend automatically goes to charity, at no cost to you.
Use your gut to guide your giving.
Particularly around elections, you might feel over-stimulated when it comes to requests for donations. When there isn’t just one issue you care about, it can be helpful to focus on the results you want to achieve.
For example, are you interested in supporting a larger, national nonprofit focused on changing federal policies? Or would you rather support a local, community-based organization working to improve the lives of those who live in your city or town? Deciding on the scale can help you whittle down your options at a time when everyone seems to be asking for money.
Once you’ve determined the types of causes you want to support, there are many tools that can take the guesswork out of donations and help you feel secure that your donation will truly have an impact. Websites like Charity Navigator and Guidestar provide easy-to-understand, transparent reports on how nonprofits use their funding and how far your dollar will go. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn more about how your money will actually be used.
Go beyond money.
Despite the power that charitable giving can create, nothing can fully replace your own civic engagement. Money is merely an extension of your own voice—a vehicle that can help create long-term, critical change.
There are so many ways to make an impact and shape the world you inhabit. Get out there and vote. Volunteer for a cause you care about. And on top of those efforts, fully embrace the power of money to influence the change you want to see in the world and build the future you want to live in.
Linda Davis Taylor is the CEO and chairman of Clifford Swan Investment Counselors in Pasadena, California, and a champion for women’s economic independence and strength. She is a frequent speaker on wealth transition, family governance, and philanthropy, and author of The Business of Family.