As we near the conclusion of March and Women History’s Month, we thought we’d honor the philanthropic traditions of women throughout history and debunk the myth that women are less philanthropic than men.
Women have played a prominent role in giving their time, treasure, talent, and testimony in U.S. history. There are countless women who have given, volunteered, and used their voices to support and advocate for the causes they cared about. Some key examples include Eliza Hamilton, Madam C. J. Walker, Jane Stanford, Mary McLeod Bethune, Katharine Dexter McCormick, Osceola McCarty, Alice Paul, Ida B. Wells, Mary Elizabeth Garrett, and Jane Addams.
Today, the women philanthropists we know by name are generally wealthy; women like Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Kathryn Chenault, and Laura Arnold generously give back through their foundations. But anyone can be a philanthropist. Everyday women who give and start their own nonprofits make a difference every day.
Beyond anecdotal evidence that women have been generous givers throughout U.S. history, what does research say about women’s giving, and how it might be different from men’s giving?
Research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) has found that women have different motivations and behaviors for giving, give to various causes, and experience different outcomes after they give than men do. Women’s wealth has risen considerably over the past 50 years, and women now own about 40 percent of global wealth.
Women are expected to control $72 trillion of private wealth in 2020 as they make their own money and/or inherit from parents or spouses. As their earning potential increases, women are also increasingly controlling or working with their partners in managing and making decisions about household finances.
In addition to their growing wealth, women across income levels and generations are also more likely than men to give to charity, and they give more than their male counterparts. Understanding their giving patterns and motivations is also important for fundraisers.
For example, women tend to be more empathetic and altruistic than men. Empathy has been shown to be positively related to charitable giving. In addition to self-reported empathy, when women give, they tend to express a desire to help others, whereas men tend to focus on the benefits that come from being charitable.
Women are more likely to give back if they are engaged with the organization in some capacity. Fundraisers can find ways to specifically connect women with the organization, including introducing the potential donor to various ways of participating with the cause, e.g. serving on the board or volunteering in some other way.
Finally, the more a household gives as a percentage of income, the higher the household’s life satisfaction. For single women and married couples, life satisfaction increases most when they increase their giving as a percent of income.
Women have given generously of their time, talent, treasure, and testimony – throughout history and today. The myth that women are less philanthropic than men hurts everyone in the field. Women donors and potential donors who are not solicited, acknowledged, and stewarded as the valuable givers they are may not see themselves as philanthropists and step fully into their power as donors.
Fundraisers do a disservice to their organizations when they disregard women donors. This may not be intentionally done, and may be as benign as mis-addressing a solicitation or thank-you letter, or not bringing the woman in the household into the major gift conversation and addressing her philanthropic goals.
Fundraisers must be intentional, using research to guide best practices in engaging women as donors. Shattering this myth can only benefit women donors, and the causes and organizations they support.