I had the privilege of being on a panel at the National Center’s 10th Anniversary symposium with four wonderful women in philanthropy: Judy Belk, Senior Vice President, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors; Julie Fisher Cummings, Managing Trustee, Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Family Foundation; Susan Packard Orr, Trustee, David and Lucile Packard Foundation; and Noa Staryk, Trustee, The McKnight Foundation.

The discussion reminded of how often we think of the donor’s legacy mostly in terms of donor-fathers, the guys who make the money and officially create a foundation.

But we all know that mothers have at least as much influence on a family’s charitable values as fathers do. Until recently, mothers have typically been the ones who spent significant time setting the tone for the next generation. But we do more than that:

We initiate. After the tragic death of her elder sister, Judy Belk and her family worked with their local church to create a scholarship fund in her sister’s name. For nearly 30 years, Judy organized and led the family side of this effort, a role now taken on by her nephew, to help underserved young people continue their education.

We contribute. Julie Fisher Cummings is one of five siblings, all of whom are actively involved in philanthropy in this country, in Africa, and in Israel. Each has found a niche and become an expert in making things happen. Mary Fisher is UNAIDS Special Representative. Jane Sherman serves on the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Marjorie M. Fisher is a University of Michigan Egyptologist. They are now working together through the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. (Well, one of the siblings is a guy who is also an expert philanthropist.)

We lead. Susan Packard Orr’s mother was one of the early leaders in philanthropy. Lucile Packard headed the foundation when it was still relatively small. Her interests were primarily in children’s causes, an area of interest the foundation continues today. Susan has now chaired the Foundation board for many years and has served on many boards, including the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Board.

We transmit values through the generations. Noa Staryk talked about the heritage of her grandmother, Virginia McKnight Binger, whose father, founder William McKnight, gave her the opportunity to lead the foundation. Virginia Binger is remembered today for her compassion and interest in individuals throughout Minneapolis and Minnesota. Those same values were transmitted to Noa by her mother Cynthia who chaired the foundation for many years. Noa herself was the first fourth generation chair of the McKnight Foundation Board.

Of course, we love all those wonderful guys, Max Fisher, David Packard and William McKnight who generated the wealth. Their business savvy made it possible for these foundations to exist. But don’t forget all the ways women have influenced and given value to philanthropy’s legacy–and will continue to do so.

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