The Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), in partnership with Elizabeth Dale, Ph.D. ’16, of Seattle University, released a new study this week. All In for Women & Girls explores the characteristics of women’s fund and foundation donors—the vast majority of whom are women—and finds that these donors stand out in a number of ways.
Why study donors to women’s funds and foundations?
Women’s funds and foundations first emerged in the 1970s; these groups fund gender equality and other issues that affect women and girls. These issues are still front and center today, and several studies have examined these organizations, including a landscape scan of women’s funds and foundations that WPI released in May. This report takes the research a step forward, asking: What unique role do high-net-worth donors to women’s funds and foundations play in catalyzing support for women’s and girls’ causes?
What did the study find?
Compared to general donors, women’s fund and foundation donors:
- …have different demographic characteristics. They are more likely to be women and LGBTQ individuals, and less likely to be retired or religious.
- …have more experience giving to women’s and girls’ causes. Compared to general donors, women’s fund and foundation donors have given to women’s and girls’ causes for a longer period of time.
- …see themselves, and philanthropy, differently. These donors are more likely to consider themselves philanthropic experts, philanthropic leaders, and activist donors; they are also more likely to participate in philanthropic leadership activities and to associate the term “philanthropist” with positive attributes.
- …are motivated to give differently. They are more motivated to give by being on the board or volunteering for an organization, giving back to the community, and believing their gift can make a difference.
- …give bigger, broader, and with different tools. Compared to general donors, women’s fund and foundation donors give higher amounts to charity, and to more charitable organizations; they also use different tools and strategies for giving, such as giving circles and wills with a charitable provision.
- …are more satisfied and more focused on evaluating their giving. These donors are more satisfied with their giving to women and girls; evaluate their giving based on direct contact with organizations; and take key steps to give more effectively, such as serving on a nonprofit board, or talking with other donors.
- …are dedicated to giving to women and girls—now and in the future. Compared to general donors, women’s fund and foundation donors are more likely to be giving at capacity to women and girls, and are more likely to increase their giving to those causes if they were to have more resources. However, most general donors also plan to maintain or increase their giving to these causes.
What methods did the study use?
This study’s methods were unique in two key ways:
- Quantitative data analysis: Other research on women’s funds and foundations tends to use qualitative data, including the WPI’s landscape scan of these organizations released in May. This study uses data from a new survey of high-net-worth donors across the U.S. With nearly 1,000 respondents, this deep level of data allowed applied statistician Jon Bergdoll to conduct more rigorous analyses than previous research in this space.
- Control group: How can we know that women’s fund and foundation donors are unique? We have to compare them to some other group—a control group. For this study, the control group consisted of high-net-worth donors of a large national donor-advised fund. This sample of “general donors” provided a comparison group, since both these “general donors” and women’s fund and foundation donors included high-net-worth donors.
Bergdoll explained the rationale for the control group: “We hoped that comparing these two similar groups, who are all philanthropically-minded and of similar financial means, would highlight different characteristics about women’s funds and foundations donors.”
Within the data, Bergdoll discovered that women’s fund and foundation donors were both more involved in philanthropy and more likely to think of themselves as philanthropic leaders and activists.
“These donors are more likely to self-identify as aware and knowledgeable about philanthropy, even compared to general donors, who are still fairly philanthropically-involved individuals,” he said. “Women’s fund and foundation donors are committed to women’s and girls’ causes because they think it’s the most effective way to change the world.”
In addition, he noted that donors to women’s funds and foundations give to other causes as well: “The rest of their giving is just as widespread, if not more so, than giving by general donors. Being more involved with a women’s fund or foundation in no way limited philanthropic scope or giving.”
And Bergdoll explained that’s typically been the case across the field of philanthropic studies.
“Generally, the more involved somebody is with philanthropy and the more they’re giving, the wider number of causes they’re giving to,” he said. “If a donor is engaged with one cause, it often indicates that they care deeply about many causes and are willing to give to those causes.”
What should I take away from this research?
This study can benefit donors—especially those who are interested in women’s and girls’ causes—as well as fundraisers and other nonprofit leaders who work on these causes. But this research has lessons for all areas of philanthropy. Women’s fund and foundation donors are committed to women’s and girls’ causes over the long term, they give more and more over time, and they push the organizations they support to live their values. Donors and nonprofits serving any cause can benefit from their example.
The research was completed with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions in the research, and the views expressed in this blog post, are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect official positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.