Women Donors: Stereotypes Uprooted
FS Advisor: March 28, 2006
By Abny Santicola, editor, FundRaising Success Advisor
Throw away the old stereotypes you’ve heard about women donors -- that they give less than men or aren’t willing to part with their money at all. The characteristics of women donors are changing, says Donna P. Hall, executive director of Menlo Park, Calif.-based Women Donors Network, a national organization of progressive women philanthropists who give at least $25,000 a year to charity.
In a recent conversation, Hall highlighted some of the traits of women donors, emphasizing that while she doesn’t like to compare women to men, there are some very distinct differences between the two demographics.For one thing, women tend to be committed activists, heavily involved in the organizations they support. “They like to feel a sense of belonging and a sense of knowing what the organizations are doing instead of just cutting a check,” Hall says. Involvement includes everything from spending hours volunteering, to going on trips planned by the organization, to getting to know the staff and joining the board of directors.
This goes hand in hand with women’s concern about the quality of the organization and what it accomplishes. Hall says that, historically, women donors are more interested than men in the organizational outcomes after they write a check to a charity.
But what women donors “historically” look like is growing less applicable, Hall says. For example, women traditionally were more anonymous in their giving -- a trait that is changing as women’s relationship to money changes.
“The portrait of women giving money away is changing,” Hall says. “It used to be primarily women who came from inherited wealth and who did sort of charitable philanthropic things. That certainly exists to some extent, but there are also now women who are earning money that they’re giving away; women who are marrying money and marrying it at a time when their husbands made the money during their relationship ... not necessarily inherited it.”
The size and frequency of gifts given by women is changing as well. “Women are becoming more comfortable with making multi-year commitments in ways that they hadn’t done before,” Hall says. In the past, she says, women have shied away from giving multi-year gifts and making large promises to organizations, most likely because they were less in control of their finances.
In terms of which causes women give to, Hall says for the most part the 140 or so members of the Women Donors Network donate primarily to charities devoted to empowering, educating and providing health and social services to girls and women. And women as donors tend to be more concerned, on the whole, with disenfranchised populations.
A key to securing first-time and lasting donations from women donors, no matter your organization’s mission, is a quality donor relationship. “It’s not going to be a quick sort of sell like it very often has been to men in the past,” Hall says. “You really have to cultivate a relationship.” This involves giving women the opportunity to get to know the organization, showing donors that you respect their ideas and acknowledging their more-than-likely interest in being active in some way with the organization.
“It’s a longer cultivation process, but the payoff is very high because once you have a loyal donor, she’s around for a long time,” Hall says.
One organization that has donor relationships with women down is the San Francisco-based Global Foundation for Women, a grant-making foundation supporting women’s human rights organizations around the world. GFW, Hall says, doesn’t distinguish between a donor who gives $100 and a donor who gives $100,000.
“Everybody’s a donor,” she adds. “They have incredible follow-through and ongoing contact with members by phone, by mail, frequent meetings, they do donor trips. They have donors involved in every aspect of the organization, they have a very active board. They are really very vibrantly involved with their members, and you can become as actively involved or as little involved as you want.”
This involvement with members and accentuating their importance to the organization is important to women, but it’s something organizations should really be doing across the board, Hall says.
“I think that we should be in the business of teaching everybody to be philanthropists, no matter how much they give,” she says. “When you value donors and when you give them feedback and they feel empowered, they start giving more money away.”
Hall recommends that organizations approach women donors by asking for small contributions, knowing that a larger gift can be cultivated over time as the donor relationship is strengthened.
Donna Hall can be reached via http://www.womendonors.org