Women with Inherited Wealth
Network of wealthy women
The network of Women with Inherited Wealth was inspired by a model from the United States in which women with inherited wealth are given opportunities to network and deepen their involvement with the women’s movement. During the early 80s, Marjan Sax met feminist philantropist Tracy Gary at a congress in the United States. Gary had founded Resourceful Women, a network for women with inherited wealth. This made Sax think about initiating something similar in the Netherlands. Given that ‘coming out’ as a wealthy woman within the women’s movement was not an option for her at the time, she wondered how she would be able to reach out to these women.
This problem solved itself over time. Marjo Meijer, co-chair of the Mama Cash Board since 2007, was one of the founding members of the Women with Inherited Wealth network: ‘On a February night in 1985, we were postering for the Hooker’s Ball, a part of the First World Whores’ Congress in Amsterdam. I made sure I was alone with Marjan Sax on the Rokin across from the Bonneterie so nobody else plastering posters could hear us. I had heard rumours within the women’s movement that she had financed Mama Cash with the money she had inherited. While very nervous, I asked her about this. She said she knew two other women with inherited money and that she’d love to get together’. That is how it started.
‘The group for Women with Inherited Wealth was the only place where we could talk about money confidently’, Meijer says. ‘I felt isolated because of my wealth’. ‘People don’t realise that having money not only brings you advantages, but also prejudices’, Marjan Sax adds. ‘Everybody’s dream is to have a lot of money, but nobody knows the downside. Grieving over the loss of your parents, the responsibility that comes with that money, the sense of guilt. Inheriting money is completely unlike earning it yourself’.
Myriam Everard says: ‘I was never taught to deal with money, I had no idea how to manage it’. Together, the women with wealth were able to improve their financial knowledge and their self-confidence. Sax suggested that the group be accommodated in Mama Cash’s office. ‘Mama Cash of course wanted us on board as valuable financial donors’, Everard jokingly says in 2010. Everard became the first private donor to Mama Cash when she donated a substantial sum of money through a multi-year legally binding donation in 1989.
When Sax revealed in an interview with magazine Vrij Nederland in 1989 that she was Mama Cash’s financier, it became easier to find out about Women with Inherited Wealth. As more women started to join, Marjan Sax decided to initiate a second Women with Inherited Wealth group. Over the years, the number of groups has gradually grown. As of 2012, Sax has convened twelve groups of twelve to fifteen women each. During the first year and a half Sax manages the programme for each newly formed group. After this period, the group members decide if they want to continue meeting on their own. The first group of Women with Inherited Wealth, created in 1985, still gathers regularly.
Johanna, who wants to remain anonymous, is one of the women who inherited her wealth. She always hated the idea of others knowing about her money. ‘I was afraid people and institutions would approach me for financial contributions.’ (watch interview) Myriam Everard adds: ‘I was active in the women’s movement through the Pacifist-Socialist Party. That part of the women’s movement was very inflexible. Money was considered shameful. I did not like always having to account for it’. Johanna: ‘You weren’t supposed to complain. “You’ve got all the money you need”, they would say’.
Icing on the cake
Over the years, Johanna has donated a total of almost six million euros to Mama Cash. This makes her the largest individual donor in Mama Cash’s history. On Johanna’s initiative, and with her money, Mama Cash set up the Fund for Central and Eastern Europe. Johanna also financed most of the the art exhibitions related to the Mama Cash Art Award. Thanks to her, Mama Cash acquired a new server and new PCs in 1999. As the icing on the cake, Johanna donated five million guilders (2,4 million euros) to Mama Cash in 2000. She intended the money to become a part of Mama Cash’s own capital, of which only the interest was to be used.
Things went differently, however. ‘At the start of the new millenium, our income and therefore our spending experienced a large setback. We had to make some extensive financial cuts’, former Treasurer Louise van Deth recalls. ‘The five million guilder gift meant our survival. We were able to continue what we were doing’. The decision to spend the money in a different way than originally planned caused a breach of confidence between Johanna and Mama Cash.
Johanna was also the driving financial force behind the production of five Dutch
documentaries focusing on ‘Who is S/he’. The documentaries were shown during the Mama Cash documentary festival in 2004, organised on the occasion of Mama Cash’s twentieth anniversary. Dutch television broadcast three of the documentaries.
Johanna is still part of her group of Women with Inherited Wealth—a safe place where she can discuss her capital. ‘Unlike banks, they are not out to get my money’. Sharing experiences caused her self-confidence to grow. She says: ‘I’m not afraid anymore when people approach me about my wealth. I don’t feel guilty anymore either when I have to say no to them. I am transferring my knowledge onto the next generation, my own daughter, who will inherit my wealth’.
Money as a means for change
Myriam Everard first tried to support the International Information Center and the Archive for the Women’s Movement, now Atria. ‘They did not quite know what to do with me. At the time everybody used to receive government funding. That’s how I ended up with Mama Cash, a brilliant initiative’. Marjo Meijer never hesitated about Mama Cash. ‘Her activities were in line with mine. Mama Cash was on the frontline of investing in women’s rights. Money was used as a means for change, I liked that’. Marjan Sax: ‘By exchanging experiences and knowledge, women took control over their money and started to invest it more consciously. From this perspective the Women with Inherited Wealth was, and still is, a school and a springboard for change’.
In the early days of Mama Cash, all substantial individual gifts were donations made by women with inherited wealth. Anonymity and privacy are two important conditions for women who donate their wealth. Mama Cash decided to guarantee her generous donors’ anonymity by setting up a separate administrative system to guard their personal information. Mama Cash maintained a high level of personal contact with her wealthy donors, informing them about her activities. She organised meetings in the 1990s to which she invited major donors and offered them the opportunity to participate in deciding which women’s and girls’ groups would receive extra support. This sometimes led to fierce debates. More recently, donors have been invited to come together in groups and to connect via skype with activists from around the world.
Making the difference
The groups for Women with Inherited Wealth are empowering their members. The women know about each other’s family histories, and they advise each other in difficult situations. ‘Women with Inherited Wealth and Mama Cash made me see that my money is part of who I am. I cannot tell the difference anymore. I am that money’, Marjan Sax says. Everard: ‘Thanks to Women with Inherited Wealth, I extended my own possibilities. I learned one can use one’s money to make a difference’.
Inspired by the lessons learned by the members of Women with Inherited Wealth, Mama Cash began to organise financial courses for women starting in 1997. Regardless of their wealth or income, Mama Cash teaches participants about financial planning, inheritance law, taxes, investing and donating money, among other topics.
Ahead of her time
The Women with Inherited Wealth network is still well connected to Mama Cash. It makes Sax smile when she hears about expensive fundraising congresses where people gather to find the best way to approach wealthy donors and how to keep them on their side. ‘We developed our own approach, Mama Cash and her Women with Inherited Wealth together’. Like other women’s funds, Mama Cash showed herself to be ahead of the times in terms of engaging with women of wealth.