Philanthropy’s Tipping Point

by Patrick M. Rooney, Ph. D.

If I had a crystal ball, I’d say women’s philanthropy is likely to be one of the prevailing issues of the 21st century for the nonprofit sector. Despite greater awareness and the fact that the trajectory of women’s philanthropy is escalating exponentially, we haven’t reached the tipping point or begun to realize the benefits of women’s giving capacity, participation and leadership. The research unquestionably shows that women have the desire, drive and capacity to give, but society and nonprofit professional practice have yet to catch up.

Women’s philanthropic clout is clear. Women are driving social change, and changing philanthropy in the process.

They’re in a greater position to lead than ever before. Women’s education and income levels are increasing. Too few have achieved top leadership positions, but women now hold 51 percent of managerial and professional jobs (vs. 26 percent in 1980) and earn about 60 percent of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, The Atlantic reported recently.

Women control more than half (51.3 percent) of all personal wealth in the U.S. and make 83 percent of all household purchasing decisions, according to the 2008 book The She Spot. U.S. households led by single women are more likely to give and give more to charity than those led by men when income, education and other factors that affect giving are taken into consideration.

Married women significantly influence their spouse’s giving. Among households in which couples give together, the wife is more than twice as likely as the husband to make the charitable decisions. And our research shows that in households that give to education, when women make the giving choices or give separately from spouses, the household is more likely to give to education and gives nearly twice as much as when the man decides or couples decide jointly.

Many nonprofits have women’s philanthropy initiatives, but too often we engage women awkwardly – or not at all. One donor told me she’s waged “a 20-year battle” to get a charity she supports to use her preferred last name instead of her husband’s. Other women tell me they simply aren’t asked to give. Maybe the nonprofit hasn’t thought to ask, or maybe the organization thinks they lack the capacity.

Do the nonprofit organizations you work for and volunteer with take the time to understand your women donors, and how and why they give? It’s important to engrain a strategic approach to involving women donors in your culture (and that means far beyond the fundraising team). You’ll enrich your mission and work and reap immeasurable benefits from their ideas, wisdom, influence, passion and purpose.

The Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy will explore these issues at two upcoming conferences. We’re partnering with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) to present Upholding Our Half: Making the Case for Women’s Philanthropy (October 28-29, 2010) in Chicago. Participants will learn to integrate women donors more fully into their existing fundraising strategy, build a formal women’s philanthropy program, and provide donor education and stewardship. Here are the program and presenters; we look forward to welcoming you to Chicago for this timely conference.

Secondly, Women World Wide: Leading through Philanthropy, our March 10-11, 2011 Symposium, will explore the power and possibility of 21st century women and their philanthropy on the global arena. Join in conversations with exceptional women leaders from around the globe to explore how and why women give, lead, and collaborate through philanthropy; and to be inspired by their leadership and stories. Registration opens September 1.

To get updates about women’s philanthropy and the very latest research, training, and events, follow the Women’s Philanthropy Institute on Twitter.

Patrick M. Rooney, Ph. D., is the Executive Director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.