A few years ago I joined two private educational boards and was surprised to uncover the following collective fundraising wisdom: women don’t give to charity. More specifically, white women in high-income households don’t give large amounts to non-profits. Their husbands do, and African-American women give to churches and their extended families. But Caucasian women give only token amounts to charities, experienced fundraisers seemed to agree. To get large, multi-thousand or million dollar donations, you need to go to men.
How can it be true that women in general do not give to philanthropic causes? Women are clearly committed to volunteerism, giving of their time in extraordinary ways – just stop by any elementary school at 10 am on a weekday morning. But are we reluctant to spend household money? Perhaps because we haven’t earned all of it ourselves? Are we – who control 83% of consumer spending in this country -- hesitant, for complicated reasons, to make large charitable donation decisions? Or perhaps the problem lies in fundraisers’ strategies – in other words, would we give more generously if asked in different ways? Or asked to give to different charities – only 10% of funding directly impacts women and girls; would women give more to charities that directly impact women and girls?
Women have money, that much is clear. According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute , 3.4 million or 46% of the nation's top wealth holders (gross assets over $675,000) are women. These women have a combined net worth of 6.3 trillion, an increase of nearly 50% from 1998. There are about 10.4 million privately-held, women-owned firms in the United States, accounting for 40% of all businesses in the country. These firms generate $1.9 trillion in annual sales and employ 12.8 million people nationwide. Because women live longer than men, we will end up in charge of much of the $41 trillion expected pass from generation to generation over the next fifty years. To boot, women run most non-profits, with nearly half of all foundation CEOs and 70% of program officers being women, according to Women and Philanthropy .
Last Wednesday I uncovered part of the riddle’s answer. At noon I sat in a darkened hotel ballroom amidst 1,500 women who had collectively raised over $11 million to benefit 300,000 women and girls in my city. The organization, The Washington Area Women’s Foundation , boasts over 3,000 donors and hundreds of volunteers with an endowment generating over $1 million a year. Yet the foundation was created only ten years prior by a small group of women. Their slogan is “The Power of Giving Together.” There is nothing traditional about this organization.
So what gives? The founders discovered that women like to give differently than men. One of the secrets to the Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s success is their “giving circles,” where women pool money to have greater impact. Giving circles have greater impact on community than individual giving and appeal powerfully to women, and they are a critical part of the trends in female philanthropy.
Today the roughly 90 women’s funds in America jointly invest over $50 million per year and have working assets of more than $450 million, says the Women’s Funding Network . They’re poised for exponential growth and aim to have collective working assets of $1.5 billion by 2018. That’s real girl power, and fundraisers everywhere are starting to notice, and adapt to, women’s collective giving.