She Gives Back: Understanding What Makes Women Donors Tick

The economic power of women all over the world is growing, offering huge opportunities for fundraisers. Nicky Mcintyre asks what actually motivates women to give and how we can engage them as donors

Until two or three decades ago, women typically inherited wealth rather than earned it, supported their spouses’ or families’ philanthropic practices, were more passive than active in their giving, and felt unempowered by money. As we move into the 21st century, we find that this portrait of women donors has changed.

While there is little data accurately documenting patterns of women’s giving behavior and demonstrating differences in giving between women and men, we know that the growing economic status of women is bearing greatly on their participation in philanthropy.

Research now shows that American women have the independent financial means to significantly invest in philanthropy. Their earning power is growing, professional skills are expanding, they have profitable businesses of their own, and a bigger say over family trusts. Because they significantly outlive men by an average of seven years, marry men older than themselves, and remarry less frequently after a spouse dies, women are in line to inherit much of the trillions of dollars of family wealth that are expected to move from the older to the younger generations in the next few decades.

The trends extend beyond the US. The results of a 2007 global survey of 600 wealthy individuals entitled Barclays Wealth Insights: A Question of Gender, also indicates that the wealth of women is growing and is derived from earnings and business ownership – not marriage and inheritance. The Barclays report predicts that by 2020, 53 per cent of millionaires in the UK will be female. And the increase in female wealth has not been limited to developed economies. Even migrant women around the world are gaining economic independence and are at the forefront of a global economic movement. According to the World Bank, 175 million migrants globally sent $230 billion back to the countries they came from in 2005. This stream of money – known as remittances  – is collectively one of the largest cash flows in the world and is certainly indispensable for many economies, and especially families, in the global south. Regardless of the size of their salaries, migrant women tend to be more active in ‘giving back’ than men.

Characteristics of women donors
How do we understand what motivates women to give and the characteristics that most define them? Although some people do not want to make a distinction between male and female donors, there are obvious differences. Men tend to be driven to philanthropy by the desire for influence and recognition, whereas women are typically more emotionally attached to the missions of the organizations to which they give and feel stronger about the reasons for giving. Women also tend to be more relationship oriented and to seek and form collaborative networks with other like-minded people, becoming “partners” with the organizations they support. Women want to do more than give money: they want to also offer their time and expertise and they want to learn, often combining money with activism. They want regular updates on how their money is being spent. They are more likely to fund “harder causes” , smaller projects and more marginalized groups that require taking more risks. And they welcome “family philanthropy” as a way of keeping their families close.

Engaging women
So, knowing what we know about the broad characteristics of women as donors, how can we give women donors what they want?

Cultivating women donors is about maintaining frequent contact, providing opportunities for involvement, building personal connections, offering networking options and learning possibilities. The following represent three possible strategies to engage women donors particularly major donors: donor circles, financial literacy training, and leadership development.

In the 1990s, the US-based Global Fund for Women and the Ms. Foundation pioneered a model called Donor Circles. In these, the organization creates significant pools of money with gifts of $5,000 to $1 million from major donors targeted to specific projects or interest areas. Donor circles generally consist of 10 to 20 major donors who meet two to five times per year with staff and other experts to strengthen partnerships and knowledge. Other donor engagement might consist of offering donors learning opportunities through grantee site visits. This donor education can result in increased commitment  – in giving and activism.

Another strategy for attracting or engaging with potential individual women donors is offering financial literacy training, which aims to build the capacity of women to manage their money and to be more strategic and socially conscious when it comes to investment. Mama Cash offers a comprehensive series of workshops in this area that have been very successful. Many of Mama Cash’s donors and prospects are keen to learn (more) about money management, investing and philanthropy. It reflects the picture that was drawn from the statistics on women and wealth: women are earning more of their own money, are financially independent and are managing their own financial portfolios. They want information and skills on how to do this better and on how to think about giving. The courses also help women to create communities and new networks.

The final strategy is to create leadership opportunities for women donors and recognize and involve them in our organizations. This means involving and recruiting women in decision-making roles such as Board and committee members, foundation executives, development officers and volunteer fundraisers. Fundraising programs targeting women will not succeed without the involvement of women in these key roles. Creating leadership opportunities can also begin with something as simple as publicizing women’s gifts or conducting focus groups with women to identify their interests and perceptions about specific areas of philanthropy. It can grow to include luncheons for women donors and prospects or “mother-daughter” programs. We know that passing on the responsibility of philanthropy to their children is of great importance to many women.

Do you want to get started on targeting women as an audience for development? Here is a eight-point checklist, written by Donna Hall from the US-based Women Donors Network, who adapted it from the work of Sondra C. Shaw-Hardy and Martha A. Taylor in their book Reinventing Fundraising .

  1. Do you know how much of your income comes from women? Do you have a way to identify women donors as a subset of all donors?
  2. Do you know the role women play in gifts received from married couples? When money comes into the organization from a married couple, it is frequently assumed that the gift decision was shared equally, or that the decision is primarily the husband’s. Either assumption may prove wrong. Fundraisers need to pay close attention to each gift and make sure their records indicate who was solicited for the gift, who was the primary decision-maker, and how the donor(s) wish to be acknowledged. It is better to ask the donor’s preference than to guess.
  3. Do you acknowledge women donors accurately?
  4. Do you include women in your standard development practices? For example, when you set up a meeting with a male donor, do you ask if his wife, assuming there is one, will also be present? Do you keep both spouses informed and involved throughout the development process?
  5. Do you promote women in philanthropy? Do you publicize large gifts made to your organization by women? Do your annual report, newsletter and other communications tools feature women who contribute time and/or money to your organization?
  6. Does your organization use vacancies on its board of directors and volunteer committees to enhance relationships with women? How do you recruit for these positions? Do you leverage vacancies to involve potential women donors?
  7. Do you ask women to give? Does your development effort address women as a high-potential audience? Do you seek out and add women to your prospect list? For example, do you ask women donors if they would like to add their sisters or daughters to the mailing list? Do you make appeals to women and ask them to give? Time and time again, women report that they are simply not asked to give.
  8. Do the staff throughout the organization know how to communicate effectively with both men and women? All should understand the giving habits of women and their preferences.

Nicky McIntyre is executive director of Mama Cash, The Netherlands. Mama Cash is the oldest international women’s fund and one of just two in the world dedicated exclusively to advancing women’s and girls’ human rights globally. As a public foundation, it mobilizes resources and makes grants to pioneering women’s organizations working in the areas of bodily integrity,economic justice, and equal participation.

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