Leaders discuss women’s role in giving

Julia Vail

DURHAM, N.C. — When Noel Lichtin began giving to programs aimed at helping disadvantaged youth get an education, she discovered she also had some learning to do.

“You see the movies where you give kids a chance and they become straight-A students,” she says. “That doesn’t always happen.”

Frustrated by the experience, she got some eye-opening advice from her friend Dianne Boardley Suber, president of St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh.

“She told me, ‘Maybe what you’re asking of them is what your goals are,'” Lichtin says.

Since then, she has made an effort to ensure that the Lichtin Family Foundation, which she runs with her husband, Harold, is working toward the goals of the people and organizations it serves.

Lichtin and Betty Craven, who heads the Warner Foundation, shared their learning experiences in a panel discussion, “Reflections and Lessons from Two Successful Women Philanthropists,” at a recent breakfast meeting held by the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Craven, whose foundation works to promote social justice and advocacy, noted that women often need to step back from getting too emotionally involved in the causes they serve.

“We try not to let our hearts melt about every nonprofit doing good work,” she says. “We’re trying to be more strategic.”

Craven comes by her love of social justice naturally.

When she was growing up, her family had a cross burned in their yard for her father’s outspoken support of racial equality.

After serving as director of International Student Services at North Carolina State University, Craven launched the Warner Foundation with her husband, Michael Warner, in 1996.

“It’s really fun to give money away and give nonprofits support,” she says.

Lichtin, a former special education teacher, served on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wake County for seven years.

She and her husband fund programs that focus on improving education and families.

Both women concede that running a foundation was frustrating at first because everyone deferred to their husbands.

Craven says she was treated as if she were “barely in the room.”

However, as they began to play a more active role in the foundations, they found they had their own skills to offer.

“My husband is more interested in immediate results, whether tomorrow or six months from now,” says Craven, who adds that she, in contrast, tends to be more patient and focus on long-term changes.

Increasingly aware of the important role women play in the giving community, Lichtin says, she got involved in the creation of the Women’s Network of Wake County to boost charitable giving among women.

During the first giving cycle in 2007, the network gave away $65,000.

In 2008, that amount grew to $104,000.

With the funds raised in 2007, the network was able to help programs for women struggling with substance abuse and prostitution at the Women’s Center of Wake County.

One of the women who benefited from the gift said something that confirmed Lichtin’s belief in the role of women in philanthropy.

“She said, ‘We have hope because women like you care about us,'” Lichtin says.

Despite the frustrations and difficulties Craven and Lichtin had to overcome as women philanthropists, they say, both agree women have a crucial role to play in charitable giving.

“We tend to be more hands-on,” Lichtin says. “We give with our hearts as well as our heads.”

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