The Importance of Understanding How Philanthropic Married Couples Make Giving Decisions
Have you ever wondered how married couples make giving decisions? I recently had a private conversation with a long-time donor to our organization. He was so proud of his support through the years, not only from a financial perspective, but through a volunteer perspective. We discussed how he began his involvement with our organization through his work. He truly walks the walk with his actions, which on this day, was to make a multi-year pledge.
Although he was very happy and honored to make his pledge, I could also see a touch of sadness in his face. He said he was perplexed because his spouse was not exactly on the same page with his love for our organization. He asked me for advice and direction on how to possibly engage his spouse in the life of our organization.
Before I provide my thoughts on his question, let’s determine why people give. In the article titled, “How to Get Donations? 14 Reasons Why People Donate,” it is noted that giving isn’t a business transaction. You need to make a meaningful connection by showing them why they matter and how they can make a difference. When you understand why your donors give, you’ll be able to make a more effective appeal. Understand why each donor gives to your organization by asking them.
People act from the heart and not the head. Giving is a personal act, and the act of giving is immediate.
Giving is complex and decisions regarding making gifts in a family unit are not always smooth. According to the National Center for Family Philanthropy, families are complex and relationships between and within generations reflect that complexity. Every decision that is made on giving is loaded because it is personal. Many families need wealth managers to provide advice and guidance.
In many cases, each family member is encouraged to follow their own direction with respect to giving. At times, the male spouse will influence the direction of gifts while the female spouse will direct gifts at other times. In many cases, the family will make a joint decision on the direction of the gifts. There are many other cases where families cannot agree on philanthropy and the process, and the family suffers because personalities and other variables come into play.
The Journal of Human Resources examines how charitable giving is influenced by who in the household is primarily responsible for giving decisions. The research indicates that with respect to total giving, married households tend to resolve giving decision conflicts largely in favor of the husband’s preferences.
These decisions represent giving to few charities at a high level. When the woman is the decisionmaker, she will make a significantly different allocation of charity dollars, preferring to give to more charities but give less to each. The interaction between married couples represents a complex set of relationships between genders, economic status, tastes for charity and bargaining strength.
The IUPUI Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s research on three data sets states that understanding individual and group characteristics is key to understanding why and how people give to charity. Previous research on gender and philanthropy has shown that women and men tend to have different patterns of giving.
Special notes to be gleaned from this research:
- Households where the husband solely decides about the family’s charitable giving are the most likely household types to give to religious causes.
- Households where the wife solely decides tend to make lower amounts to religious causes.
- Being married increases both the likelihood of giving and the amount of giving, regardless of gender.
- High net-worth married households do tend to give higher amounts to charity and to secular causes, compared to single men and single women.
With respect to my donor’s question, here are my general recommendations:
If possible, get to know both married partners equally so you can determine their charitable interests, who is the decision maker, etc.
If you cannot get to know both married partners equally, seek to find out the other party’s charitable interest and communication style.
Treat both married partners with respect and value their joint or split decisions about philanthropy. My only concern is that I have happy donors whether they give to my charity or not.
Be honest and provide suggestions when asked for assistance.
In this case, I have suggested to my male donor that a female volunteer in my organization that he has known for many years and who is also a donor peer, visit with the married couple socially to enlighten the female spouse on our charity from an educational viewpoint. From that visit, a determination will be made to see if the spouse can be engaged in our organization.
When working with married couples, take nothing for granted. Find out from face-to-face visits over time if possible, how best to engage with them based upon their needs, wants and desires. Do not assume anything and constantly cultivate, solicit when appropriate and steward. Realize that greater success will occur over time with a well thought out strategy.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, IN plus Adjunct Professor for Olivet Nazarene University. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.