Women’s Philanthropy Sets the Pace … Despite What We Still Think

women's philanthropyBy Avrum Lapin

The role of women in philanthropy is growing and will only get more significant in the years to come. The place that women occupy in the advancement of philanthropy will continue to expand.

Debra Mesch, the Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, cited by Fortune Magazine in an October 2014 article by Michelle Lodge titled “Dispelling myths about women and charitable giving,” says that many misconceptions about the giving patterns and habits of women still linger. This includes dated notions like “women don’t give big donations” and that “women have to ask a man, such as their husbands, before they can give money.” But she and her colleagues have found just the opposite – that in almost every income bracket, women outgive their male counterparts.

And in the same article Lodge quotes Nancy Heiser, a Vice President of Wealth Management at UBS, who provides some simple facts that support that trajectory. “Women are very involved in charitable giving,” she explained. “The reasons are simple: Women are living longer, making more money and may be inheriting twice – once from their parents and again if they outlive their spouses (a fact borne out by the U.S. Census Bureau).” And according to Mesch’s WPI 2010 Women Give study, American households headed by single females typically give 57% more than those headed by single males.

Let’s also put it into the context of the rising generation of emerging major donors. According to the US Census Bureau’s National Population Estimates & Projections, by 2030 Gen Xers will be ages 54-65 and will make up 13% of the total population of the United States. (Gen X is currently 50/50 male to female.) Additionally, the Boston Consulting Group estimated that in 2009 women controlled 27% of the world’s wealth – approximately $20 trillion. This was projected to have grown by 8% over the past five years. By 2030, women-controlled wealth would be $75.4 trillion based on a conservative annual growth rate of 6%. Putting these two trends together, the power and positioning of women in the philanthropic marketplace is exploding.

And how will this affect the nature and structure of that hyper-competitive marketplace?

As stated above, women commonly outlive their husbands – women over 65 are three times more likely to be widowed than men of the same age, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – and are often are left with ultimate control of family money. In addition, according to the US census in 1990 for the first time the percentage of American women who are married dropped below 50%. As women achieve greater professional and earning parity with men, and they continue to follow the broad giving patterns of their Gen X cohort, especially the focus on demonstrable results of their philanthropy and the impact of those results on the lives of people, their power as individual philanthropists also increases and becomes more potent.

And the growing presence of women in top positions of volunteer and professional leadership in the philanthropic marketplace punctuates the need for nonprofits to continue to adapt to the many shifts that are occurring. The way that giving is inspired and done is different than in the past.

Gone are the slaps on the back and the “handshake deals.” They are now replaced by the careful analysis of how giving empowers individuals, families and communities, creates measurable change, the accountability to make it attractive to others, and the additional resources that it must marshal to bring about full success.

We need to be more attuned to the expectations of female donors as they make the funding decisions that will continue to reshape the nonprofit world from top to bottom. Among them:

  • Women tend to be more directed and specific in their philanthropy. Studies find that gifts from male/female households are more apt to support education, health, and religious organizations when the woman is responsible for the decision.
  • Women give nearly twice as much when they give independently, as singular donors or separately from male partners. Additionally, they are more likely to give larger amounts to fewer organizations.
  • Women give work, wisdom, and wealth. They volunteer their time in greater numbers than men, and they support organizations with which they engage directly.
  • Women engage with their philanthropy. For many women, philanthropy is a personal and social activity. Women are often drawn to frameworks such as giving circles or other forms of collective giving that allow them to give collaboratively, participate in decision making, thus maximizing the impact of their dollars.

So when you embark on a campaign or are advancing your ongoing fundraising activity, understand that the role and power of women, and of giving by women, is a central factor in your success. My colleagues and I would encourage nonprofits to:

  • Make sure that the woman is present and connected when approaching a male/female household for a gift of significance. Absent her involvement, the gift might be called into question and will likely be smaller.
  • Make room for strong and accomplished women on Boards, development committees, and campaign leadership teams.
  • Expand the institutional thinking to embrace the questions not only of “how much will be raised” but “how much and what will this money accomplish.”
  • Measure your success by who will benefit, and the meaningful and sustained change that the funds will make on the lives of people.

We are very excited by the increasing role of women globally in all capacities, and especially their impact on the trajectory of smart and forward-thinking nonprofits that are embracing this essential pathway to future achievement.

My colleagues and I welcome your comments and emails. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, based in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, a full-service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading-edge approaches and strategies. A Board member of the Giving Institute and a member of the Editorial Review Board of Giving USA, Avrum is a frequent contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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