Teaching the value of giving; Charity: Philanthropic groups are recognizing they can increase donations by appealing to a largely untapped source: women.


As their mothers chatted over lemon bars, young girls in spring dresses and polo shirts learned how easy it is -- and how hard -- to give away thousands of dollars.

The money was just imaginary, part of an exercise to teach young women to start donating to charity. But 11-year-old Kendall Hoff still found it tough to choose. Animal rights or civil rights? Women's groups or low-income housing?

She finally decided to give a little bit to each of her favorite causes.

"We chose things because we thought it was what our community most needed," said Kendall, who donates half of her spending money to her church in Towson.

At the "mother-daughter tea" in Roland Park this week and in speeches to executives, philanthropist and consultant Tracy Gary tried to get women and girls excited about such decisions -- and to foster improvement in the giving record among Maryland's wealthiest citizens.

Charitable giving has been on the rise across the country for the past four years, fueled by the robust economy. The American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel reported Wednesday that giving in the United States grew 9 percent between 1998 and 1999.

But studies show that wealthy Marylanders could do much more. Newtithing Group, a San Francisco philanthropic research firm, reports that Marylanders who made more than $200,000 in 1996 could have given nearly four times their average charitable gift of $16,000 without a decline in lifestyle.

Philanthropy programs such as Baltimore's Giving Project, which brought Gary to town, are starting to recognize that women are a key factor in improving those numbers.

Women control more than half the personal wealth and more than a third of all privately held businesses in the United States, according to a Kellogg Foundation report. There are more than 100 philanthropic women's funds across the country; 60 of them are less than 10 years old.

Regardless of their wealth, however, many women suffer "bag lady" syndrome, Gary says -- the fear that a change in personal circumstances could wipe away their financial security.

There's some truth behind that -- statistics show women are more likely to be set back financially in divorce, to live longer and to hit bumps along the career ladder. But women can give comfortably if they plan well, Gary says.

'Giving' account

Gary's money came easily. Her mother was a member of the Pillsbury family; her father, a grandson of one of the inventors of the dial telephone.

The Garys didn't want their children to grow up enjoying wealth without learning responsibility -- or without learning how to share.

That's why Gary got a special "giving" account of $100 when she turned 14, about 35 years ago. She and other members of her family also were told they had to volunteer at least as many hours as the national average per week. If they did more, they got more money to give away.

When she inherited $1.2 million in increments during her 20s, Gary promptly began giving on a larger scale. The inheritance grew to more than $2 million, $1.8 million of which has been donated to various causes.

Along the way, Gary started 14 nonprofits and forged a career as a consultant, traveling to cities such as Baltimore to drum up generosity. She says she gives half of her $100,000 annual income to charity as well. "I'm the happiest person in the world," Gary says. "By many people's standards, I'm a fool."

The women who gathered with their mothers and daughters in Roland Park didn't seem to think so.

"I didn't really know what philanthropy was before," said Phoebe Legg, 15, who looked over the Giving Project's materials. "I think it would be cool to donate to an organization."

Phoebe has volunteered in service projects as part of Maryland's community service requirement in high schools. But her mother, Gay Legg, said she hopes to teach her daughter that "it's not a meaningless requirement."

Piquing interest

Robin Wood, co-chairman of the Safe and Sound Campaign and a board member of Associated Black Charities, brought her teen-age daughters to teach them about what their mother does -- and to pique their interest in sharing. In the process, she hoped to show them that the problems philanthropy addresses -- and the rewards of giving -- belong to everyone.

"It's not so much about helping out the less fortunate anymore," Wood said. "It's about making your community a better place to live."

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