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Women and the Future of Philanthropy

The future is female, or at least the future of philanthropy is likely more female. With women controlling an increasing amount of our global private wealth, it comes as no surprise that their philanthropic contributions are increasing as well.

Recent news stories highlight female artists and philanthropists like Susan Unterberg who anonymously gave $5.5 million to women artists for over 22 years. In June 2018, the Washington Post profiled Laurene Powell Jobs and her groundbreaking efforts to inspire new educational models and improve performance outcomes for underserved students. In the political fundraising arena, groups like Electing Women Alliance are empowering women to participate in the political process as donors and political activists. An umbrella network made up of 17 giving groups located throughout the US, the Alliance has raised $5 million for female political candidates in the 2018 election cycle, a 233% increase over 2016 totals.

With these changes in wealth demographics, it is important that fundraisers and others understand the behaviors and needs of their female prospects and donors. Studies have shown that women and men have different motivations for giving, and the type of contributions they make also differ. For example, a 2011 study sponsored by Merrill Lynch looked at high net worth women’s philanthropy and the impact of women’s giving networks. Researchers learned that while men are more likely to give to one or a few organizations and causes, women tend to give to several different organizations. The study also pointed out that high net worth women are more motivated to volunteer for a charity than are high net worth men.

Several studies by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy focused on how gender influences types of giving, specifically planned giving and giving circles. One study also considered how marital status and generation influences giving. In a 2009 study on planned giving, and bequests specifically, the research team found that for donors who named a charity in their will, women were more likely than men to identify their reasons as “‘for equity,’ ‘achieve a desired impact,’ ‘reciprocity,’ and ‘meet material needs.’”

The School’s 2015 study on whether women give more revealed: “single women are more likely to give, and give higher average amounts.” The research team noted, however, that “marriage has a positive effect on men’s giving; divorced/separated men and never married men are the least likely to give and associated with making the smallest gifts.” Regarding generational giving, the study found that women were more likely to give than men across all generations except for Gen-Xers.

Giving circles, or groups of people pooling their money and deciding where to allocate those resources, are also more prevalent among women. In a 2015 literature review, the School found that giving circles have been increasing significantly in recent years, from at least 225 in 2005 to 500+ in 2015. Notably, over half of US giving circles identify as women-only, and many focus on issues most pertinent to women and girls.

Despite differences between women’s and men’s philanthropic motivations and behaviors, many nonprofits have focused their outreach and communication efforts on male members of donor households. In fact, sometimes organizations don’t even keep the names of male constituents’ female partners in their databases. Given recent study findings, fundraisers and nonprofits should make distinct efforts to engage their female prospects and current donors, whether they give independently or as part of a household.

Preeti Gill, Associate Manager of Prospect Development at Covenant House Vancouver and Founder of Sole Searcher Strategies, has been advocating for women’s greater role in philanthropy for years. On her blog, Gill has recommended that prospect researchers list women first when assembling a profile. And during her talk at APRA International 2018, she urged organizations to invite their female constituents to all cultivation and stewardship events. Gill noted that the cultivation period may take longer with female donors than with men, but it is worth the wait.

Research aside, the most important thing for any gift officer is to go out and meet with prospects, and fundraisers, in general, should focus just as much on engaging their female constituents as their male constituents. Nonprofits may have different histories around how to include women in their fundraising strategies, but changing wealth demographics in the US and worldwide mean organizations cannot afford to ignore this important—and distinct—donor segment.

Go out and get to know them.

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About the author

Elisa Shoenberger

Benchmarking Product Analyst

Elisa Shoenberger, Benchmarking Analyst, provides vital benchmarking data to the Analytics department, which in turn supports every practice area in the firm. Most recently, Elisa served as Senior Prospect Management and Research Analyst at Loyola University in Chicago. In this role, Elisa supported the President’s Office, Principal Gifts team, and…