New research on wealthy donors to women’s causes contains fundraising lessons for charity leaders and guidance for people who want to achieve maximum impact with their charitable giving.
Released this week by Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute, the research compared giving in 2017 by two groups of donors with an annual household income of at least $200,000 and/or a net worth of at least $1 million, not counting their primary home’s worth.
The first group of 187 wealthy donors, more than 93 percent female, were contributors at some 20 women’s funds and foundations that support causes advancing women and girls.
The second group of 780 affluent donors was more equally divided between men and women. It was composed of high-net-worth donors at a large national organization that administers their donor-advised funds, similar to checking accounts from which these people make charitable contributions.
A Different Donor Profile
Wealthy donors who support women’s funds and foundations were different from other affluent donors. For one thing, they were nearly five times as likely as the other wealthy donors to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. Donors to women’s causes were younger on average (58.3 years old versus 63 for the other donors) and less likely to attend religious services (27.8 percent versus 40.8 percent for the others). They also had higher household incomes ($624,733) than the other group ($237,692).
Donors who support women’s funds and foundations were far more likely than the other affluent donors to regard themselves as “experts” in philanthropy (32.1 percent compared with 13.7 percent). The same was true among affluent donors who regard themselves as philanthropic “leaders.” Those supporting women’s funds and foundations said they were philanthropic leaders more often (43.2 percent) than their wealthy counterparts (23.6 percent).
More importantly to fundraisers and other charity leaders, it’s not just sexual orientation and perceptions about their philanthropic role that distinguished donors to women’s funds and foundations. They also gave more: Their total gifts to charity in 2017 averaged $48,309, whereas total donations of other wealthy donors that year were $30,027 on average.
In addition, donors to women’s funds and foundations were more likely than other wealthy donors to take on substantial roles with the causes they support: More than 58 percent of the women’s fund and foundation donors, for example, served on the board of a women’s and girls’ organization, compared with less than 23 percent of the other affluent donors who reported board service. Nearly 22 percent of the donors to women’s funds and foundations made gender-related impact investments, compared with less than 10 percent of the other affluent donors.
“Women’s fund and foundation donors,” the researchers wrote, “are more likely than general donors to give cash, have a budget for their giving to women’s and girls’ causes, have a charitable provision in their will, give stocks, and give through a giving circle.”
Those donors were also more likely to be advocates for the causes they support and evaluated their gifts to women and girls’ causes differently from other wealthy donors, with significantly more personal, direct contact and communication with the causes they support.
The overall findings offer implications for donors and the organizations seeking to win their support, says Elizabeth Dale, a professor of nonprofit leadership at Seattle University, who led the research.
First, for donors seeking an outsized impact with their giving, it is important to engage with the organizations they support in multiple ways, including through board service, advocacy work and close communications with staff and volunteer leaders of the organization and the people it serves, Dale says.
Second, if organizations want to increase contributions and build long-term relations with donors, Dale says, they need to develop meaningful leadership opportunities for donors to get involved that go well beyond offering their financial support.
Dale wrote, “Nonprofits outside women’s funds, perhaps supporting other marginalized groups, can look to the women’s funding movement as a living example of how to build a collective multimodal approach that is able to be both broad and deep.”