Hedge Fund Women Use Poker, Power Lunches to Boost Nonprofits

Kathleen Kelley
Kathleen Kelley, portfolio manager at Kingdon Capital Management, LLC. Kelley, the co-founder of High Water Women, said that about 90 percent of the individual ticket buyers for its Casino Night fundraiser are women. Photographer: Danny Christov/Kingdon Capital via Bloomberg

The annual fundraiser for the female hedge-fund executives of High Water Women Foundation features Texas Hold ‘Em.

Women make up about 90 percent of individual ticket buyers and half of the attendees. The proceeds from the organization’s annual fundraiser, which began as a wine tasting, have more than doubled from $200,000 6 years ago to $556,000 last year.

It’s one of many indications that women donors are becoming significant financial boosters for nonprofits.

“Our female members are not only supportive in getting their friends and co-workers involved, but they also write checks,” said Kathleen Kelley, High Water Women’s co-founder and portfolio manager for global macro investments at Kingdon Capital Management LLC.

A telephone survey by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University released in 2010 shows that U.S. women who are single heads of households are more likely to donate to charity than their male counterparts.

At three salary levels -- $100,000 or more, $23,000 to $43,000, and less than $23,000 -- women are inclined to give double the amount that men give for the first two and almost twice as much for the last.

The Phoenix, Arizona-based Make-A-Wish Foundation of America is launching a new “Women for Wishes” club in New York to identify women donors who will help recruit more women to its patron base. A survey conducted by the charity last year showed that more than half of its 600,000 active donors are women, Elizabeth LaBorde, Make-A-Wish’s vice president of resource development, said by phone.

Women Writing Checks

“Organizations like Make-A Wish are very smart and are in the forefront,” said Debra Mesch, director of Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute and co-author of the study. “Fundraisers need to start paying attention to women. Married couples need to be approached as a couple, and they shouldn’t assume that the man is writing the check.”

Citymeals-on-Wheels in New York turns to its women patrons to give its holiday fundraising efforts a boost. Its November Women’s Power Lunch raised more than $1 million, with 27 women buying the top-tier $10,000 tickets, compared with 20 men, according to Marcia Stein, the nonprofit’s executive director. In 1993, 11 men and only 1 woman bought the most expensive tickets.

“Women are raised to think about community, so when they have resources, they think about the communities around them,” Melissa Berman, president and chief executive officer of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors Inc. in New York, said by phone.

Women in Need

The $3 million that High Water Women has raised from donations and its poker tournaments has been distributed to nonprofits such as Women in Need Inc., which provides shelter to homeless women in New York, and Harlem’s Iris House Inc., which aids mothers and children living with AIDS and the HIV virus.

Kelley said she hopes the poker tournament will continue to expand its ranks of patrons.

“If I want to make the world a better place, the causes that need funding will have the face of a woman or a child,” Kelley said. “Those are the scenarios where there’s real suffering and real inequality.”

(High Water Women’s Casino Night is at Gotham Hall, 1356 Broadway at 36th Street in Manhattan, tonight at 6:30 p.m. Tickets and information: hww@thejfmgroup.com)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE