Let’s Pay More Attention to Jewish Women as Donors!

by Robert I. Evans & Avrum D. Lapin

“Jewish women give more, make decisions more emotionally, and are more consistent donors.”

Clearly to many, women are making a significant impact in the Jewish philanthropic community as dedicated leaders, donors, volunteers, and advocates. In our recent interview with New York City leader and donor Susan Stern, we learned more about the growing role of women in Jewish philanthropy and the “hot buttons” for women donors. Her personal insights into the roles, expectations and goals of Jewish women involved with charitable causes made us more curious about how Jewish non-profits are reaching out to Jewish women. Is this demographic receiving the appropriate attention and being stewarded as we recognize woman as important donors?

In our experience working with Jewish non-profits, we have seen women as more generous, more likely to participate as volunteers in philanthropic activities and more consistent donors. Especially in synagogue and community affairs, we have seen women become more engaged and philanthropic than their male partners.

A number of studies have found that women are more generous and donate more to charity than their male counterparts but most of the studies have not focused solely on the motivations of Jewish women. But “Does Jewish Philanthropy Differ by Type of Giving and Sex?,” a recent study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, suggests that giving to religious causes by single Jewish women increases when they marry Jewish men. When Jewish women marry non-Jewish men, religious giving does not increase compared to single Jewish women. Note: this study examined giving patterns among 32 single Jewish women and men, 60 married Jewish couples, and 57 interfaith couples and used data from the comprehensive Panel Study of Income Dynamics. The study group was relatively small, but was representative of the national sample.

The important lessons to remember from this study as well as hands-on work: as women enter a partnership and become more involved in economic and philanthropic decisions, they increase their contributions to religious charities. Therefore, we (and the data) suggest that Jewish women, especially those who are married, should receive more than ample attention as donors and should be approached in careful and strategic ways. The study’s results reflect for cases ONLY for Jews who marry other Jews. When Jewish women marry non-Jewish men, they do NOT give more to religious causes. Same for Jewish men who marry non-Jewish women: they do not give more to religious causes than single Jewish women.

Obviously, we in the communal world have always valued the importance of women as boosters and volunteers, but we contend that many non-profits are still not properly stewarding women as donors. From our experiences working with hundreds of non-profit organizations, female donors tend to respond more to emotional cues than men, together with accountability, in their giving. They also respond positively to consistent and informative communication. Therefore, we stress the importance of relationship-building with female donors: arranging face-to-face meetings, checking in with donors by phone and maintaining continuous and important communications via email and “snail mail.”

Successful and ongoing outreach to women as distinct constituents requires some new thinking. Given the results from the Indiana University study and our front-line work in hundreds of campaigns, we suggest several proven and creative approaches.

Start with displaying what the major needs are and be compelling in your presentations. But be more creative in your follow-up. For example, if your donor is particularly interested in improving the religious school at your congregation, invite the potential donor for an on-site visit in a classroom and then encourage some of the young students to write “thank you” notes to the visitor. This will exhibit the donor’s impact, while making them feel appreciated for their commitment.

Keep female donors engaged by actively seeking out their opinions, as well as their visions, individually and collectively, for the organization. Invite them to important events or meetings and suggest that they host a small gathering to help broaden or deepen the circle of serious supporters – not bake sales or scrip. Donors that feel personally connected with an organization will want to advocate actively and perhaps invite friends to join in their efforts.

One caution that is increasingly obvious: husbands and wives jointly make decisions about major philanthropic choices, so including both spouses in presentations and donor-building sessions are critical strategies.

As female donors are making an impact in decision-making and guiding philanthropy in the Jewish community, recognize that no donor can be taken for granted and in many instances, a woman in a household can be instrumental and – perhaps – even quicker to reach positive decisions.

Don’t fall back to “traditional” notions about giving. You can be sure that someone else who understands the reality in today’s marketplace will be there to do it right.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. EHL Consulting is one of 35 firms belonging to The Giving Institute, the organization that oversees the preparation and distribution of Giving USA. EHL Consulting works with dozens of non-profits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.