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Women and Philanthropy

Guest post by Lindsay McCreary, Director of Philanthropy Operations at La Jolla Country Day School

In honor of Women’s History Month, we pay tribute to the many women who have paved the way before us and bring light to the importance of the equal representation of women in fundraising practices.

For generations, women have been drivers of charitable giving. As independent women, wives, mothers and daughters, women have sought out ways to improve their communities beyond their traditional roles. As a result, women have been key players in advancing the common good through various levels of contributions including monetary, advocacy and volunteerism.

How women give is distinctly different when compared to men, which comes from greater empathic responses. Women typically make the well-being of their families their top priority and want to ensure that future generations are taken care of. In general, women are motivated to give because they want to make a difference and therefore reflect an empathetic, heart-based approach to their personal philanthropy.

In approximately 40% of households with children, women are the primary breadwinners, up from around 15% of similar households 50 years ago. And, more and more, we are seeing younger women take control of their own finances. In fact, 43% of the nation’s top wealth holders are women and the percentage of women inheriting wealth is only going to increase at a rate of two-times that of their male counterparts. We have seen an incredible shift in social and economic norms which is driving important change in the nonprofit sector. Providing visibility and inclusivity of women in all areas of a donor journey is more important now than ever before.

Various research shows that six in ten couples make philanthropic decisions together. When just one of the individuals makes the decision, 15.3% are women as compared to 12.1% men. This research is proof that as organizations, it’s our role to equally represent and communicate with women as we do men. Are women invited in for the strategic conversation or master plan meeting? Are women addressed equally in the major gift solicitation? Is a stewardship letter acknowledging one of the individuals more so than the other? Does the discussion on estate planning involve both members of the relationship? Great strides have been made, but there are still incredible opportunities left on both the macro and micro levels.

Charitable giving plays a significant and increasing role in women’s lives, with 84% of women agreeing in 2021 as compared to 75% in 2020, and 81% and 69% as compared to men respectively. And nearly nine-in-ten women wish that they could do more to support the organizations that they are passionate about. These numbers will continue to trend upward as we see more and more of the workforce and wealth shift to younger generations of women. But are practices within the sector keeping up with the trends and behaviors of our donors?

A 2018 study from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy says that “a growing body of research points to women’s influence and power in philanthropy. The more we understand about what motivates donors to give and how they give, and the more we understand the factors that influence and affect giving, the better able the nonprofit sector will be to engage donors.” In other words, donors, their behaviors, and the information that they share with the organizations they support tells that individual’s story.

There can also be inherent biases against women that appear in both prospect development and research. The gender pay gap remains a constant, with reports indicating that women earned 84% of what their male counterparts earned and women homeowners see lower returns from buying and selling real estate than men do which contributes to an overall gender gap in wealth accumulation. On average, women in the United States own a mere 32 cents to every dollar owned by men.

With the statistics, and research available demonstrating the power of women and philanthropy, we ask ourselves why our fundraising practices still favor a traditional, male focused structure. As professionals, it’s our responsibility to bring equality (in all facets) into our processes and organizational practices to represent the presence and influence of women. Consider the following ways to ensure inclusive practices:

Ask donors how they want to be recognized, using a free form. If you ask, be sure to use it. Changing a response or making assumptions only leads to negative feelings about the organization or their connection to your beneficiary.

Reconsider the use or collection of honorifics (Mr./Mrs./Ms.) or include all possibilities (Mx.). If you use or collect honorifics, only use them when a donor provides them. Dropping honorifics and acknowledging donors by their first names instead acknowledges both individuals equally. (Ex: Jane and Jim Smith or Jane Martin and Jim Smith)

Routinely provide donors the opportunity to update their recognition preferences. Include how the donor will be listed on acknowledgements and provide the opportunity to update.

Consider how you assign the head of household and ensure your policy is equitable and represents your donors correctly. Don’t assume that the male in the relationship is the head of household.

A 2018 study from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy says that “a growing body of research points to women’s influence and power in philanthropy. The more we understand about what motivates donors to give and how they give, and the more we understand the factors that influence and affect giving, the better able the nonprofit sector will be to engage donors.” In other words, donors, their behaviors, and the information that they share with the organizations they support tells that individual’s story.

There can also be inherent biases against women that appear in both prospect development and research. The gender pay gap remains a constant, with reports indicating that women earned 84% of what their male counterparts earned and women homeowners see lower returns from buying and selling real estate than men do which contributes to an overall gender gap in wealth accumulation. On average, women in the United States own a mere 32 cents to every dollar owned by men.

With the statistics, and research available demonstrating the power of women and philanthropy, we ask ourselves why our fundraising practices still favor a traditional, male focused structure. As professionals, it’s our responsibility to bring equality (in all facets) into our processes and organizational practices to represent the presence and influence of women. Consider the following ways to ensure inclusive practices:

  • Ask donors how they want to be recognized, using a free form. If you ask, be sure to use it. Changing a response or making assumptions only leads to negative feelings about the organization or their connection to your beneficiary.
  • Reconsider the use or collection of honorifics (Mr./Mrs./Ms.) or include all possibilities (Mx.). If you use or collect honorifics, only use them when a donor provides them. Dropping honorifics and acknowledging donors by their first names instead acknowledges both individuals equally. (Ex: Jane and Jim Smith or Jane Martin and Jim Smith)
  • Routinely provide donors the opportunity to update their recognition preferences. Include how the donor will be listed on acknowledgements and provide the opportunity to update.
  • Consider how you assign the head of household and ensure your policy is equitable and represents your donors correctly. Don’t assume that the male in the relationship is the head of household.

Incorporating an equal focus on women as donors celebrates and honors those individual stories, further cultivating and bridging stronger connections between all people and the beneficiaries in which we serve.

Lindsay McCreary, Director of Philanthropy Operations at La Jolla Country Day School, has a wide-range of operational fundraising experience, including multi-million dollar special events, database management and migration, annual and special giving campaigns, and managing two nine-figure capital campaigns with a large hospital foundation. With a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of San Diego, she specializes in change and operational management with the goal of maximizing efficiency and positively impacting the donor experience.

You can find Lindsay on LinkedIn

Watch Lindsay’s webinar Women in Philanthropy

We are tremendously grateful to everyone who joined us for this webinar.  The ongoing chat brought great questions and discussions from other fundraising professionals who shared their experiences and opportunities.  Below is a list of references and resources mentioned in the chat:  

Gender Matters:  A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy, Kathleen Loehr

Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley

The Soul of Money:  Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Life, Lynne Twist

Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, Riane Eisler and Douglas P. Fry 

Invisible Women:  Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez

Inclusalytics:  How Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leaders Use Data to Drive Their Work, Victoria Mattingly, Sertrice Grice, Allison Goldstein

Generosity and Gender:  Philanthropic Models for Women Donors and the Fund Development Professionals Who Support Them, Lois A. Buntz

Apra Ethics and Compliance Committee Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Data Guide

NTEN Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology

CASE, Apra, AFP, and AASP to develop best practices about the collection, storage, and use of data on rece, ethnicity, and gender identity in charitable fundraising.

1 https://www.fidelitycharitable.org/content/dam/fc-public/docs/insights/2021-women-and-giving.pdf
2 https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/1805/25383/women-give2021.pdf
3 Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Women and Giving
4 https://www.aspireresearchgroup.com/women-gives-how-households-make-giving-decisions-2021/
5 https://www.fidelitycharitable.org/content/dam/fc-public/docs/insights/2021-women-and-giving.pdf
6 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/
7 https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/single-women-get-lower-returns-from-housing-investments
8 https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/single-women-get-lower-returns-from-housing-investments
9 https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/05/25/gender-pay-gap-facts/
10 https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/single-women-get-lower-returns-from-housing-investments
11 https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/single-women-get-lower-returns-from-housing-investments

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