Getting Women to Give: Advice From the Trenches

photo: Andrey_Popov/shutterstock

photo: Andrey_Popov/shutterstock

Anyone trying to start a new women’s giving program—or increase contributions from existing female donors—would do well to read Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy, a new book from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

After decades of research and targeted efforts to engage women philanthropically, most charities still aren’t reaching their full fundraising potential with women, argues author Kathleen Loehr. A seasoned fundraising consultant, Loehr has worked with several programs to enhance women’s giving.

Loehr says that she honors the hard work that has gone into such programs. But “we are not matching our increased understanding of how women give with updated fundraising practices,” she writes. “Our sector is behind the times.” A clear majority of charities, she adds, “still use fundraising practices that either turn women off, or gain only minimal support from them. So much more is possible.”

Loehr convincingly explains how commonly used fundraising practices and habits developed and refined in the last century—a method of identifying the most desirable potential board members who will give, for example—are male-focused, and by using them, charities unwittingly overlook or exclude women.

That’s one reason why charities should employ a broad-based approach before adopting strategies to enhance their relations with women, one that seeks active participation from existing donors, fundraisers, and other officials throughout the organization, according to Loehr.

Simply assigning a staff member to spearhead a women’s giving program, she says, will never yield the best results, though plenty of nonprofits have tried that approach. Such programs all too often relegate the women’s program to a niche within fundraising and, as Loehr and some of her colleagues have come to realize, it’s time to “ditch the niche” and incorporate women into all aspects of development.  

Loehr recommends the formation of a “discovery team” driven by leaders of the organization with a deadline to make recommendations for enhancing women’s engagement, a thorough internal examination of existing donor records and interactions, and personal meetings with potential and current female supporters to learn more about their philanthropic attitudes and practices.

To get the most out of this work, Loehr writes, readers should adopt an organizational-change model called “appreciative inquiry” that involves “asking unconditionally positive questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and heighten positive potential.” Instead of negation, criticism and diagnosis of problems, appreciative inquiry focuses on discovery and curiosity, uncritical exploration, and the design of new methods to achieve previously unattainable results.

Throughout the book, Loehr poses questions to make fundraisers and other charities think—before creating new programs for female donors—about how they could be better connecting with women. Some examples:

  • “When you rate a woman’s capacity to make a gift, do you also rate the level of engagement and trust she has in you?”
  • “What questions are you asking to discern if a woman wants to be involved individually or is interested in collaboration?”
  • “Recognizing that women may consider more than themselves in the gift decision, do you ask about a woman’s family considerations when she is discussing a potential gift?”
  • “Given the special bond women have with each other, how do you provide space and time for women to connect and share with each other when they are gathered to help your cause?”

There is more useful fundraising information in Loehr’s book; this is just a taste of what it has to offer. It seems fitting to end with a quote from one of the author’s mentors, Martha Taylor: “When you approach women like men, you lose the women. When you approach women as they prefer, you get the women AND the men.”