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Research Friday: Myths about Women as Philanthropists: "Busted"

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert from our academic faculty to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Recent research indicates some of the many myths about women as donors are "busted." Perhaps you have heard some of them:

  • Women don't give large gifts.
  • Women prefer to remain anonymous.
  • Women's giving is emotional rather than business-focused.

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University recently distributed the results of a 2010 study, and all of the above were proven false. Let's take a closer look at the findings.

The report cites recent single gifts from women in excess of $25 million. Additionally, the report cites the participation of 100 women in a specific 2008-09 campaign, which generated $141 million with a minimum gift of $1 million. Women are named, directly or as part of a couple, in two-thirds of the gifts on the Center's Million Dollar List.

The desire for anonymity appears to be related to generational differences. For example: Boomer women often appreciate recognition; however, "Generation X women (those born between 1965 and 1976) reportedly want recognition only if it would directly benefit the organization."

Women do appreciate business perspectives in their giving, as supported by a recent Center study of larger donors to the United Way Worldwide. According to the study, "... women value tax benefits for giving, along with the impact and effectiveness of their gift."

Among the other interesting facts about women in this study are the following:

  • There were 10.1 million privately held, women-owned firms in the U.S. in 2008, which accounts for 40% of privately held U.S. businesses.
  • Women's median income has increased 70% in the past 30 years; men's income increased only slightly.
  • Women make 83% of all consumer expenditure decisions.

Women are seen as less generous than men, but the complete perspective is quite different. "Men tend to concentrate their giving among a few charities, whereas women are more likely to spread the amounts they give across a wide range of charities." However, when the data are controlled for income and education, women give more than men. A number of studies indicate women do seem to prefer giving to health-related charities, human services, and children's charities.

What motivates women to give? Several studies have found that women report higher levels of empathy than do men. "Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that women desire to use their philanthropic dollars to effect transformations based on their values. They want to be part of the change they are helping to make happen."

There is a strong link between volunteering and giving: Women who volunteer often provide philanthropic gifts to those same organizations. Further research verifies that sense of connectedness that volunteering provides – connectedness to the cause and to the community.

Connectedness is important to women, as they are more relational than men. "Women who join a giving circle are likely to give more over time than women and men who do not belong to a giving circle."[6] However, women do not respond well to the peer pressure of learning who and how much others give. This information seems to have a positive influence on men's giving, but not on women's giving.

Interestingly, women are very interested in social networking and have evidenced faster growth in the use of Facebook than have men. Both men and women respond well to social networking, depending upon their generation, for it is by age group – not gender – that differences in use appear. Another myth (women are not technologically savvy) de-bunked!

Women's interest in bequests is about the same as with men, but the motivations are different. "Women who had a charitable bequest in a will were significantly more likely than men to indicate mission impact and reciprocity (giving back in return for the benefits they or their loves ones received) as motivations for their overall charitable giving."

This report includes much more information about women and their philanthropy, and anyone desiring a better understanding of how to develop philanthropic relationships with women would benefit from reading it. The bottom line is that some of the long-held assumptions about women as donors are no longer true. Women are emerging as philanthropic leaders and "...Nonprofits that expect to thrive in the coming years will need to engage women as donors, board members and volunteers."

Where to find this Giving USA Spotlight? Cost: $15.00. There is also a free executive summary of the entire Giving USA 2010 report at this site.

^ [1] Giving USA Spotlight, Issue 3, 2010, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University/GivingUSA Foundation. Pg. 1
^ [2] Ibid. Pg. 2
^ [3] J. Andreoni, E. Brown, and I. Rischall, Charitable giving by married couples:  Who decides and why does it matter?, Journal of Human Resources,  2003, 38 (1), 11-113; G. Piper, S. V. Schnepf, Gender differences in charitable giving in Great Britain, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 2008 19(2)m 103-124.
^ [4] Empathy is measured by feeling protective of others in need, a willingness to care for others who are less fortunate, or a willingness to assist people in need.  D. Mesch, Z. Moore, and M. Brown.  The effect of gender and generation on donor motives and giving.  Presentation for the annual conference of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organzation and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA), November 2009, Cleveland, OH
^ [5] Giving USA Spotlight, Issue 3, 2010, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University/GivingUSA Foundation. Pg. 6
^ [6] A. M. Eikenberry and J. Bearman, with H. Han,  M.  Brown, and c. Jensen, The impact of giving of giving together: Giving circles’ influence on members’ philanthropic and civic behaviors, knowledge and attitudes, May 2009, Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, and The University of Nebraska at Omaha,
^ [7] Giving USA Spotlight, Issue 3, 2010, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University/Giving USA Foundation. Pg. 9
^ [8] Ibid, Pg. 9


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