Women have been integral to donating money to organizations small and large through family foundations. We don’t often hear about who they are or how they make their decisions, but it’s clear that their passions dictate which causes receive funding. Some of these women are influencing their communities and the world in significant ways. Here are the stories of six famous female philanthropists who are doing their part:
In 2016, Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby gave 87,654 acres of land in Maine to the federal government for use as a national park. This, however, upset many residents, possibly because she didn't allow hunting, logging, or motorized vehicles on the land she owned.
Her history is fascinating. She used to live off-the-grid and helped build the company she co-founded with Burt Shavitz in the 1980s.
Quimby acquired Shavitz’s stake in the company in the 1990s and eventually sold the company to Clorox in 2007. She is now primarily involved in funding conservation work in Maine.
Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg conducts her philanthropy efforts through the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation.
Following the sudden death of her husband, Dave, she wrote a book that coincided with the development of Option B, an organization that supports resiliency programs. Before that, Sandberg co-founded the Lean In Foundation, which supports women’s advancement in the workplace. A signer of Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, Sandberg is planning to give away more than half of her wealth during her lifetime.
Elaine Wynn co-founded hotel and casino companies like the Mirage and Wynn resorts with her former husband, Steve Wynn. Wynn is passionate about children’s education and serves on the National Board of Directors of Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that supports low-income students.
As a trustee of the Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation, she has also donated to many causes, including after-school programs, the arts, and hunger relief. She also supports many causes in the area of health, especially children’s health and Las Vegas-area hospices.
Suzanne Dworak-Peck is an accomplished social worker. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from the University of Southern California. In 2016, she gave $60 million that she gained from real-estate investments and consultancy work in Hollywood to the university’s School of Social Work, which now carries her name in honor of her largesse.
Dworak-Peck has served as president of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). She also founded NASW Communications Network Inc., which aims to accurately portray social workers in movies and on television.
Marilyn Simons heads up the Simons Foundation. She and her husband, James, started this organization with funds he earned through building the investment management company Renaissance Technologies. The foundation primarily supports scientific research, making grants to individual researchers through their sponsoring academic institutions.
One of the newer programs it funds is Simons Collaborations. This project focuses on encouraging partnerships across the disciplines of mathematics, physics, and the life sciences. Simons also founded the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative to “improve the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders.”
While she may not be giving away as much as many of the other women discussed here, Sara Blakely is an inspiration to other female entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
Blakely was selling fax machines door-to-door when she invested her life savings in the creation of Spanx, a pantyhose that didn't have seamed toes. She invented the product herself and founded the company in 2000. At first, she operated the company out of her own apartment.
She later began the Sara Blakely Foundation in 2006 to focus on empowerment initiatives for women and girls worldwide. In 2013, Blakely became the first self-made female billionaire to sign the Giving Pledge.
Some of the organizations she supports are local to Atlanta, where the company is based. Meanwhile, others are national and international. This includes the Malala Fund, Girls on the Run, Atlanta Girls School, and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund.