Engage, Then Ask
Women have access to more wealth today than ever before — whether it be earned, married into or inherited. Nonprofit organizations that focus on engaging women donors have more opportunities to broaden their donor bases; to build strong, long-term support; to tap into a remarkable leadership pool; and to realize their missions more effectively.
Consider these facts if you’re hesitant about a special focus on women in your fundraising effort. The 2000 U.S. census reported there are 140 million women in the country, which equates to 6 million more women than men. Women have been the majority of college students since 1979; 30 percent of women ages 25 to 29 hold a bachelor’s degree or better. Education is a strong indicator of philanthropic activity. As of 2002, 43 percent of Americans with gross assets of more than $500,000 were women.
Here are six suggestions to help build a successful women’s initiative at your organization:
1. Conduct an audit of your organization. In what ways are women involved? Assess your organizational culture and identify the barriers that might preclude a successful women’s initiative. Are staffing, resources and leadership available for the project? In one instance, women on the development staff wanted to institute a women’s initiative at a small coed college. They had a vision and a plan. They encountered resistance from the predominantly male development and college leadership, and the idea was dropped.
2. Review your fundraising message. What’s your image in the community and on the Web? What language do you use when talking to women donors? Words and phrases that resonate with many women include connect, collaborate, create, partner, involve, participate, problem-solving and call to action. Make sure the contributions section of your Web site talks about vision, mission, values and impact before talking about philanthropic vehicles or ways to contribute.
3. Make the connection between women who volunteer for or are otherwise active in your organization and their giving potential. Even if you don’t have a women’s alliance, you do have a database. How do you list your donors? Who pays attention to the name on the check? Who follows up with the consistent annual women donors in the $100 to $250 range? Take the time to identify 100 in that group, assess their capacity, invite them to learn more about your organization and engage them. For example, a Midwest nonprofit hired a consultant to develop a planned-giving program. In analyzing the database, the consultant found 500 women donors over the age of 50 who had made annual gifts for three or more years. Within two years that nonprofit raised $6 million in planned gifts and pledges.
4. Consider generational differences. Develop targeted mailings, programs and events to engage women from different generations. Baby boomer women might have different expectations of your agency than older or younger women.
5. Engage women donors. Some women, in their business and professional life, seek to be involved with nonprofits to network and/or socialize with like-minded women. Women’s giving circles have proliferated and achieved considerable success around the country, in part because they offer opportunities for networking, socializing and engagement.
As fundraisers seek to move women donors up the giving ladder, they might offer a variety of programs and events to better connect donors to the organization. These might take the form of special educational programs on philanthropic values or financial literacy. Focus groups about how the nonprofit meets a community need enable women donors to become more familiar with the organization and its role in the community. Networking gatherings coupled with after-hours, behind-the-scene tours and opportunities to interact with clients/students are tested ways to engage donors.
6. Rethink special events. For many nonprofits, special events focus more on “friendraising” than on “fundraising.” Annual balls, runs, auctions, festivals, etc., are volunteer intensive — often the volunteers are women. Think about the impact on your organization if those volunteers would spend their time as ambassadors of your organization and cultivate larger gifts rather than just gathering $25 gift certificates for the auction.
It’ll take time to change your organization’s culture, and you might meet with resistance. But it’ll be well worth the effort.
When you show women how they, as fundraising ambassadors, can help your organization meet its mission, and when you connect a woman’s values to her philanthropic actions, you’ll see a difference in funds generated.
Women’s philanthropy isn’t about totally revising your fundraising program. It’s about ensuring that all possible donors are invited to the table to share their values and passions. It’s about ensuring women are recognized for their leadership potential, for their financial clout and for their potential impact on your organization.
Andrea Pactor is the program manager for philanthropic services at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. For more information, visit www.philanthropy.iupui.edu, and click on the link to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy.