July 23 2014
Women & Funding: The Gross Misconception Over "Gender Differences"
I couldn’t be more excited that women and political giving is the topic of conversation today. Two articles appeared yesterday that has the media spinning: Politico asked why women don’t give the same big dollars that men do. And Roll Call asked why conservative and Republican women’s groups are underfunded. Two different, but related issues, but both come down to “gender differences.”
As the head of a free market women's organization, I'm well-aware of the fundraising challenges that exist on the Right. As I consider IWF's growth over the past few years – and our upward trajectory moving forward -- I'm cautiously optimistic that the tide is changing, and that more people in the liberty movement see the value of a women’s organization and the need to reach more women with a limited government message.
But the fact remains that we are David to the Progressive’s Goliath. Women’s groups dominate the Progressive political landscape. Emily's List may be the Queen Bee, but they are not the only group in town. The National Organization for Women, American Association of University Women, National Women's Law Center, National Council for Research on Women, Women's Voices Women Vote (or, Voter Participation Center), the League of Women Voters, and the Institute for Women's Policy research -- just to name a few -- are research, grassroots, and fundraising machines.
These women's groups take gender seriously and they know how to spend their millions of dollars. Most on the Right have no idea how effective these organizations have been in targeting and mobilizing women voters and ultimately in promoting big-government policies. (The League of Women Voters, for instance, was at the forefront of political GOTV experiments more than a decade ago -- something Republicans still lag far, far behind on.)
The biggest problem in attracting women donors and building stronger women’s organizations on the Right is the gross misconception over “gender differences.”
Most of us on the Right still believe there are real and significant, biological differences between boys and girls/men and women. Yet when it comes to politics, we actively ignore that there’s any difference at all in how a man or woman might behave: what might motivate them to give, what issue might be most persuasive, what kind of messenger or mode of contact might be most effective.
The Right needs to recognize that thinking about and talking to women – whether it’s potential donors or voters – is not the same thing as pandering or playing “gender politics.” Women make up 54 percent of the voting population, yet the Right fails to consistently engage with them.
I don’t blame women donors who don’t want to be sidelined into helping with a “women’s effort.” They’re right. Too often engaging with women is a tangential effort – an afterthought. But speaking to women shouldn’t take place in a breakout session. It shouldn’t be an “end of the campaign” GOTV effort. It shouldn’t be a women’s “happy hour.” And it shouldn’t mean trotting out women as an accessory.
If the right wants to solve its “women” problem, it needs to bring in more women donors, fund more organizations like the IWF which focuses on sophisticated messaging research and targeting women in the middle, and most of all stop confusing effective communication with the pandering of the Left.
We all know it’s not enough to have good communications; but our side is selling universal principles and policies that are gender-neutral and good for all citizens. And that’s a fundraising pitch both men and women ought to be able to get behind.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.