What Women Want
The 1990s marked a turning point in how nonprofit organizations regard women donors — as a financially high-powered cadre poised to give unprecedented amounts of time and money to charity.
Today, women own more than half the nation’s investment wealth and can be expected to accumulate even greater wealth as they increase their earned income and inherit much of the predicted $10 trillion intergenerational transfer of wealth in the coming decades, according to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, a national organization dedicated to supporting women as philanthropic leaders.
“The demographics of women donors are changing,” confirms Donna Hall, executive director of the Women Donors Network, a national organization of progressive women philanthropists who give at least $25,000 a year to charity. “Historically, this market was seen as women with just inherited wealth. Now that is changing because women are coming out with shared wealth, as well as their own wealth.”
With certain stereotypes deconstructed — old commonly held beliefs such as “women give less than men,” “women don’t give large donations” and “women might have the means but aren’t as willing to part with their money” — female contributors have emerged as a compelling force on the philanthropic playing field.
“Organizations are finding that they need to court, pay attention to and get serious about reaching women donors,” says Cynthia Woolbright, president of the Woolbright group, a nonprofit consultancy, and former vice president for alumnae relations and development at Hollins University. “Building relationships with women for the long haul is going to make a huge difference in an organization’s growth and success.”
Woolbright, who was a recent speaker at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s Online Speaker Series, “Gender Matters: Women Donors & Philanthropists,” says that while many male donors are attracted by the prospect of visibility, female donors often shun the limelight, preferring instead to get involved and take part in an organization’s functions.
“A woman wants to know what the outcome is going to be and the impact of her giving,” Woolbright notes. “Men, of course, can be effective philanthropists and donors. It’s simply understanding the difference.”
More likely to volunteer
Some 44 percent of adults surveyed by national nonprofit coalition Independent Sector for its study, “Giving and Volunteering in the United States 2001,” volunteered with a formal organization in 2000. When it came to gender differences, women were more likely to have volunteered than were men (46 percent and 42 percent, respectively).
And according to the Center for Women’s Business Research, a nonprofit research and leadership development foundation, women who own businesses participate in volunteer activities at a significantly higher rate than the average adult and the average business owner in the United States. CWBR’s late 1990s report, “Giving Something Back: Volunteerism Among Women Business Owners in the U.S.,” says nearly eight in 10 women business owners spend time volunteering, and a majority encourage their employees to do so as well. What’s more, 65 percent of women who volunteer spend time helping a community-related charity. Other charities that women business owners volunteer for include education-related (35 percent), religious (28 percent), health- or disease-related (21 percent) and the arts (19 percent).
“Women have a desire to make a difference rather than preserving the status quo,” Hall says. “Women place high value on their involvement and the creative process to develop charitable solutions.”
Gifts from the heart
Many experienced fundraisers who cultivate large donations have found that male and female donors who are responsible for their own wealth are more likely to leverage their money for recognition and status. But incentive-based campaigns and rewards for giving might not be appropriate for most women contributors.
“Women will say, ‘Don’t spend your money on [a gift]. Put it toward the organization’” Woolbright says. “If you are going to recognize women at giving levels, it has to be something that’s personal and unique.”
Woolbright cites an experience at Hollins, a private, women’s liberal-arts college in Roanoke, VA, where a beloved campus beechtree was struck by lightning. A local artist came out and carved bowls out of the dead wood — a creative way to save the college landmark. The development office gave the bowls to some of its alumni who had given at larger levels.
“We gave the unique gift out selectively,” Woolbright says. “Everyone who received it was just thrilled because they knew it was something personal.”
Family and community
While Woolbright and the development team at Hollins adeptly pinpointed the desires of its female contributors, Tracie Christensen, executive director of development at the University of California, Los Angeles, has drawn some interesting conclusions of her own about women donors.
Christensen also serves as co-executive director of Women and Philanthropy at UCLA, a program that promotes women’s representation as major donors, leaders and decision makers. Among its many goals, the Women and Phil-anthropy program trains women to assume leadership roles on campus, mentors the next generation of women philanthropists, supports programs that reflect the varied interests of women and, ultimately, advocates women’s leadership at UCLA.
“We have found that the role of family is very important to women [who give to UCLA],” Chris-tensen says. “Among their many motivations for giving, women of means often look for mechanisms within an organization to participate with their children, to educate them on how to be philanthropic.”
Over the past ten years, one of the major differences in the composition of UCLA donors is their motivations for giving.
“Ten years ago, women would tell us that they gave strictly out of passion,” says Christensen, who also presented at CASE’s Online Speaker Series. “There are more women today who understand that often times your level of giving directly relates to having a seat at the table.”
Still, one variable has not changed: involvement.
“Women donors to UCLA tend to make a gift and then want to become systematically involved with the area they supported,” Christensen explains.
And when UCLA goes out on a solicitation or cultivation call, its approach might be different for a woman than for a man. According to Christensen, the call might be more about how that woman’s gift will make an impact on other women. But she stresses that each solicitation is tailored to the individual.
Gifts for social change
More wealthy female donors feel a responsibility to repay organizations that have had an influence in their lives than do affluent men, says a 2001 study commissioned by wealth marketing solutions provider HNW Digital. According to the study, “HNW Digital Wealth Pulse Survey of Wealth and Women,” women are more likely to help groups concerned with enacting social change in areas regarding health, the homeless and the elderly, etc.
“Because women are different than men in a number of ways in terms of giving — including who they give to — one of the key differences is building sustained relationships with women over time,” Hall says. “The women I have worked with tend to want to be very involved with the organization that they are supporting financially.”
While women might be more inclined to use their gifts as instruments for social change, Hall says rarely do you find a woman who says, “Let me give you the money and you do with it what you will.”