Here's One Easy Way Funders Can Make a Huge Difference in the Lives of Women and Girls


Here’s a quick quiz for any funder currently working on women’s and girls’ issues: What’s the single, potentially most-solvable challenge facing a full quarter of girls and transgender boys and approximately 22 million adult women and transgender men in the U.S., right now? 

We have a few hints for you: The issue concerns a normal physical process that happens to all biological women and girls, sometimes starting as young as eight. Solving or even making a significant dent in this problem would also make a significant dent in related challenges like access to education, ability to seek and maintain employment, and overall ability to consistently engage in their communities.

Still stumped? The answer is period poverty, a term that describes not just the inability to afford the necessary supplies people who menstruate need to maintain their monthly hygiene, but also a lack of basic education about what periods are and how to take care of oneself when they happen.

This problem is also, perhaps, one of the least-funded areas in the vastly underfunded universe of challenges facing women and girls, presenting a significant opportunity for funders to make a fast and measurable impact. In other words, it’s an area rife with opportunity for the philanthrosphere to get a huge bang for its collective buck.

Fortunately for our readers who care about these issues, working on this problem won’t require anyone, including funders, to reinvent any wheels or create any new nonprofits. Here, just in time for Period Poverty Awareness Week, IP presents a quick rundown of the issue, solutions and five nonprofits working to make those solutions happen. 

A few facts about period poverty

Menstruation is a basic, normal, roughly monthly fact of life for more than half of the people in the U.S. This includes adults, teens, girls and transgender boys as young as eight years old. In a country as wealthy as the United States, no one should have to miss a single day of school, or be unable to maintain employment because of an inability to afford the estimated $20 a month it costs to purchase the necessary supplies to maintain personal hygiene during their period. 

Unfortunately, in the U.S., roughly a quarter of all teenage students who menstruate had trouble accessing those products, according to a 2021 survey. Another study, conducted in 2019 — before the COVID-19 pandemic and the past year’s issues with inflation — found that nearly two-thirds of low-income women surveyed were unable to afford products during the previous year, and roughly one-fifth of them had the same problem every month.

Period poverty has a direct effect on girls’ education and women’s economic equity, with 1 in 5 girls missing school and roughly the same percentage of women missing work because they can’t access products. But despite the fact that period products are a matter of public health, federal programs like food stamps don’t cover them, and 22 states levy sales taxes on them, making them even less accessible.

The U.S. also fails overall at providing medically accurate, accessible information about menstruation. One 2021 report found that more than 4 out of 5 students felt that they were taught more about the biology of frogs than they were about the human body, and one researcher wrote in 2022 that “many girls received no guidance before their first period or had been given information that felt dated and hard to relate to.” That’s before you consider Florida’s push to ban school employees from even talking about periods with children who may already be menstruating — a bad idea that, if current political trends are any indicator, will start popping up in other red states, as well.

Potential solutions to period poverty

Experts in the field with whom we consulted disagreed about whether or not period poverty in the U.S. could be eradicated completely, but the fact remains that there are proposed solutions that would make a huge difference. 

Those solutions start with the direct service organizations that are providing period products to people who need them, but lasting change can only be achieved through changes in public policy. Federal antipoverty programs must cover period products. States need to repeal their so-called “luxury taxes” on these necessary products, and federal, state and local governments need to ensure that period products are available in public restrooms in all schools, libraries, jails, prisons and other public buildings. States further need to ensure that they are educating students about menstruation.

Fortunately for funders, there are several organizations in the U.S. that are attacking this issue through direct service, advocacy or both. Two of them have successfully pushed for state laws mandating the provision of period products in public schools. There is also a lot of momentum around the issue. Twenty-two states have passed legislation touching on requiring and/or funding period products in schools, and 17 states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide them. Twenty-four states have passed laws exempting menstrual products from sales taxes.

Despite both the existence of proven-effective nonprofits addressing this issue, and the momentum behind it, few funders have become involved. This is particularly perplexing since, given the small budgets of these nonprofits and the momentum they’ve helped create, a few large grants could have a significant impact.

Nonprofits addressing period poverty

Speaking of nonprofits working to combat period poverty, we’ve found five that operate mostly in the U.S. To date, three of them have received either no funding at all, or a miniscule amount, from foundations.

The Alliance for Period Supplies: A program of the National Diaper Bank Network, the Alliance for Period Supplies has 142 allied programs, says it has donated more than 40 million period products nationwide since 2018, and engages in both education and advocacy work, including the creation of Period Poverty Awareness Week. The Alliance has received support from founding sponsor U by Kotex and Thinx, but tells IP that it hasn’t received any funding from either foundations or high-net-worth individual donors. The National Diaper Bank Network overall reported net assets of $2.8 million in 2021, and the organization told IP that the Alliance’s estimated operating budget is $400,000.

Dignity Grows: Since its funding in 2019, this Connecticut nonprofit has grown to 59 active chapters in 25 states and distributed more than 100,000 totes containing period products and other personal hygiene necessities like soap, shampoo and toothpaste. Dignity Grows is also an advocacy organization that helped push for Connecticut’s recently adopted Menstrual Equity Act, which requires the state’s public schools to provide free period products to all menstruating students in grades 3 to 12, and is currently raising funding for a study on the impacts of period poverty throughout the lives of people who menstruate. Dignity grows reported net assets of $100,852 in 2021, though individual chapters are self-financed. It’s also one of the few period poverty-related nonprofits receiving foundation funding: supporters include corporate donors like Aetna and philanthropic orgs including Max Cares Foundation, the Jewish Federations of North America, and the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation.

The Pad Project: Launched in 2018, The Pad Project is active in the U.S. and internationally, with regranting programs in this country and pad-manufacturing machine programs employing women in countries including Afghanistan, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The Pad Project reported net assets of just under $839,000 in 2021. Only 3% of that amount came from foundations, according to the organization.

PERIOD.: Founded in 2015, PERIOD. has reportedly donated bulk period products to 400+ organizations in the U.S. and worldwide. The organization has 400 chapters, provides grassroots training about period poverty, and advocates for policies to end period poverty, including supporting the proposed national Menstrual Equity for All Act. With reported net assets of just over $500,000 in 2020, PERIOD., Inc. Executive Director Michela Bedard told IP the organization relies on regional and national foundations, individuals and corporate donors. While it has received funding from some high-net-worth individuals, small-dollar donors make up the bulk of its financial support to date.

The Policy Project: In addition to its period poverty work, (in the form of appropriately named initiatives The Period Project and Period Positive Workplace), this Utah nonprofit’s work includes advocating for the establishment of Teen Centers in schools to meet the needs of Utah’s students living in poverty. Launched in 2021, The Policy Project reported revenues of just over $2 million in 2022, with 82%, or just over $1.6 million, coming from foundations. That money appears to have been well spent: Last year, the organization successfully helped lobby for the passage of Utah’s law mandating the provision of period products in that state’s public schools.