Perspective

Delightfully disruptive: Why giving by women matters to the work of the kingdom of God

As Christians, we believe that the kingdom of God is both “already” and “not yet.” In other words, while we work for the renewal of all things on this broken earth, we also wait, with hope, for God’s new order.

By Heidi Metcalf Little

This is beautifully described in Revelation 21, where he dwells with his people and wipes away tears, mourning, and pain.

While we’re on this side of a new heaven and earth, there may be a unique, though not exclusive, role for women and philanthropy in this renewal of all things. And that role may be delightfully disruptive.

The inclusion and impact of women throughout history has been both countercultural and delightfully disruptive. We now find ourselves at another disruptive time in history. Women own more than 51 percent of the wealth in the U.S. and 95 percent of women will be the financial decision-makers for their family at some point in their lives.

Those numbers could have a tremendous impact on philanthropy. A recent study looked at female-only headed households (singles, widows, divorcees) and male-only headed households. It revealed that women at virtually all income levels give more to charity than men, even after controlling for effects of income and education.

Charitable giving in America has remained constant at two percent of GDP for the last 40 years, but that could change as more women control an unprecedented amount of wealth. Research shows that women have higher levels of empathy than men and that empathy is positively associated with giving. That empathy may also be the key that unlocks more resources for kingdom purposes on earth, especially if women find their real treasure in heaven as encouraged by Matthew 6:19.

Disrupting the “how” of giving

Philanthropy is a little bit like leavening; it is flexible, it can transform, and a little bit goes a long way.

How women give is also potentially disruptive for the kingdom. Research has found that women are more cooperative and less competitive than men when it comes to their giving behaviors. Perhaps the way women give and the connections they naturally make with others can lay the groundwork for breaking through barriers to peace and prosperity.

One example of such inclusion of women is Ambassador Swanee Hunt. She chairs Inclusive Security, a Washington-based nonprofit that consults with policymakers throughout the world on ways to involve women as decision-makers in peace and security processes. She’s used her influence and wealth to shine a light on women who have changed their countries for the better through their giving.

Twenty-five years ago, the African nation of Rwanda was ripped apart by a genocide. When the conflict ended, Rwanda’s population was 70 percent female. The untold story is that when the rebuilding started, women not only buried the dead and cared for orphaned children, they drove a recovery that laid a foundation for their current political and economic power.

Now responsible for the majority of financial decisions, women invested together in families and households, improving outcomes for all Rwandans. More than 25 years later, a country ripped apart by genocide now enrolls 98 percent of its girls in primary school and has the highest percentage of women in government of any country in the world. Hunt’s leadership and philanthropic investments tell the story of how women on both sides of the conflict organized and cooperated to rebuild their country.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33). Philanthropy is a little bit like leavening; it is flexible, it can transform, and a little bit goes a long way.

And most interestingly, the leaven is once again in the hands of women who, prayerfully, will continue to delightfully disrupt for the good of God’s kingdom.

Heidi Metcalf Little speaks, writes and advocates for a variety of policy and philanthropic interests. With a career that began in business, she has worked in the nonprofit, policy and philanthropic sectors. Heidi earned her BA from the University of Virginia and her Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

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