Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

January 17, 2012

Women a model for engaged giving


By Todd Cohen

Nonprofits that want to build closer relationships with their donors should take a hard look at a new study on giving by wealthy women.

Wealthy women are more strategic about their giving than wealthy men, more engaged in the causes they support, and more focused on the impact of their giving, says the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2011 Study of High Net Worth Women’s Philanthropy.

Those findings are important because, barely treading water in the treacherous economy, nonprofits are looking for ways to better connect with donors.

A growing number of nonprofits also are focusing more attention on building relationships with existing donors who have the potential to make larger gifts.

All of that requires better understanding donors, helping them understand community needs, and showing them how supporting a particular nonprofit will help address those needs.

For their part, donors increasingly want to be involved with charities they support, and see the difference those organizations make.

Women are creating and controlling a bigger share of wealth in the U.S., says the new study, which conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is based on mailed surveys completed by 628 men and 283 women with average household wealth of $12.2 million and average household income of nearly $640,000.

Women spend more time than men on their homework before giving to a charity, the study says, and are more likely to create an annual giving strategy or budgets.

Women expect deeper communication with a charity, and care more about its efficiency and effectiveness and about hearing about the impact of their gift.

They also want to be more involved with the charity, and volunteering represents one of their main motivations to give.

And while men and women volunteer at similar levels during their working years, retired women volunteer at a higher rate than do retired men.

Women also are more likely than men to stop giving to a charity they previously supported, while men tend to give to the same causes year after year.

And in three of four wealthy households, women either are the sole decision-maker or an equal partner in charitable giving.

Strained to the breaking point by the dismal economy, nonprofits no longer can afford to take donors for granted as impersonal sources of cash.

Nonprofits need donors who will be partners, understanding and caring about urgent community problems, engaged with the nonprofit, and recognizing that supporting the nonprofit will help address those problems.

While the Bank of America Merrill Lynch study looks at the philanthropic attitudes and behaviors of wealthy donors, nonprofits should mine it for ideas about how to build stronger relationships with their own donors, regardless of their level of wealth or income.

Smart, caring and involved donors are critical for nonprofits of all sizes, and understanding why and how high-net-worth women give provides insights into the kinds of donors any nonprofit should be working to engage.

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