Women Don’t Give?

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.


I can't imagine. Honestly, I was in the garment center for 14 years...and I love a fab bag & great shoes...but I know I'd be embarrassed to not hand over $$$! I swear that the women with the least amount to spare sometimes are more generous. And men...I think they like to look generous in front of women & their peers.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

Kerry -- I hear you. Why why why? What do you think is the explanation here?


I had to respond because I just was involved in back-to-back fundraising events for an amazing non-profit that I work with. ALL of the events targeted upper income women. If I had to guess 80% of the women were white. After the events took place I stated that I prefered "co-ed" charity events because men donate more! I've noticed that women just carry their credit cards/debit cards & their "emergency" $20 bill. I'm sure there is a study somewhere that shows that men carry more cash & therefore can donate more cash at events! :) It also was amazing just how many women had handbags that were worth $1-$2 thousand dollars...but said they couldn't donate $10 to charity.


I am missing the point of your article. Are you saying women don't give, or wealthy women don't give?
Most of the women I know (WASP's) donate regularly, as I do, but none of us fit into the millions of dollars category, since we don't have that much cha-ching.
I try to focus on 2-3 charities that are near and dear to my heart, and find that most women are like me - the cause is crucial to their donation. Men like to donate because it makes them feel important, and for a tax write-off.
Every donation I make is emotional and well thought-out, especially in these rough economic times.


Well for me its a case of having a need for my money. And in some cases not liking the way the money gets managed. I am willing to volunteer my time and items. I know those will be used appropriately by those in need. I keep seeing money getting wasted on things like thousand dollar art fountains in parks. Hey how about a park with water fountains kids can play in and on that will be utilized rather than on a non-functional modern piece of art that will in my view be a waste of money and water. My way I can feel good about having donated to the cause without having to get irked about how they are spending or miss-spending the money.


Hey Leslie -- I think you're right that women give differently. My mom has taught for years at a small, private women's college, and for a number of years, she also did their alumni fundraising. She was tremendously successful. Not with generic mailings or swanky events; instead, she built relationships with these women over a period of years. Whenever she'd travel, she'd look up an alum in the area and take her out to dinner. And not just the high-fliers: she noticed that one alum had consistently given $5-20/year for probably 50 years, and made a point to go visit her and thank her for all those years of loyalty.

Those personal visits built relationships, which in turn made the alums more inclined to donate. For example, my mom discovered that the $5 donor was living on a fixed income and had been giving what she could afford. The alum was extremely grateful that her loyalty had been noticed; supporting the college was important to her, and while $20 was very significant to her, she never thought it would be significant to the college. My mom's decision to fly out to visit her made her feel very special, like all those years of pinching penalties had been worth it. And you know where this story goes, right? It turned out that she had been hoarding pennies, and left the college about $100K in her will.

Point is, I think women are more relationship-oriented. My mom almost never got significant donations the first time she approached people, but after building a relationship for 5 years or more, the contributions started rolling in. I think the point about wanting to see that you're having an impact is also important: I know my mom spent her visits mostly talking about all the exciting things going on on campus -- things that the alums would get excited about supporting.