“The most important thing we can do is unleash the full power of half the people on the planet—women.
We know that women need the tools of development, but development needs women.”
Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation
Who is the face of philanthropy? Just a decade ago it was 50-something white men who were successful executives or entrepreneurs. But so much has changed in the past ten years. Women now comprise 47 percent of the country’s top wealth holders (defined by having assets of $2 million or more), controlling nearly $5 trillion in assets. As women’s wealth continues to grow, they’ve become a rising force in philanthropy. A study released last year found that 64 percent of charitable donations were made by women. This group includes boomers as well as older women who are statistically more likely to outlive their spouses and manage the family funds. Single women are far more likely to give than single men; and married individuals are more generous than single men.
In 90 percent of affluent households, women are either the sole decision-makers or equal partners in charity giving, a study by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch reported. Role models include Melinda Gates, Susan and Jennifer Buffett, and Susan Dell, all actively managing huge philanthropic enterprises. You don’t have to be a billionaire to make a difference and having a big name helps. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie (humanitarian causes and children’s health), Mariska Hargitay (sexual abuse), and supermodel Petra Nemcova (children who survive disasters) use their fame for greater good, raising funds and awareness for causes they care about. Other women like Patricia Harris, head of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Judith Rodin of The Rockefeller Foundation (quoted above) occupy leadership positions to strategically distribute wealth and make the world a better place.
Armed with new knowledge about women’s philanthropic interests, nonprofits are tailoring their marketing strategies for a female demographic. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you gain the support of female donors for your own organization.
Women are not just writing large checks. They’re also more actively involved in the charities they support. Historically, their volunteering heritage goes back to the Civil War days when they formed aid societies to knit socks and nurse injured soldiers. Today women outnumber men in volunteering and studies show a strong correlation between volunteering and supporting an organization financially. In a recent survey of wealthy givers, 87 percent of women said they volunteered regularly. Other research indicates this pattern of behavior holds true across income brackets. So offer fundraising initiatives with ties to volunteer opportunities.
Causes empowering women and girls are particularly appealing to female donors: education and workforce initiatives, equality, anti-bullying, and reproductive rights. If your organization supports these areas, offer women opportunities to become involved. Several chapters of the national organization Women in Communications, including the Northern New Jersey and Minnesota chapters, sponsor holiday networking events to support the nonprofit Dress for Success. Members are encouraged to donate gently used work-appropriate clothing, money, or their time as volunteers to mentor lower-income women entering the job market. It’s volunteering plus networking: a winning formula.
Women seek opportunities for collaboration: hence the evolution of ‘stiletto networks’ that are changing the face of business and philanthropy. Some call this “the quilting bee transferred to the boardroom.” It’s akin to networking on a philanthropic scale. “Women like to do things together,” says Jacki Zehner, chief engagement officer of Women Moving Millions, an organization that has had great success in bringing together high net worth women as a powerful donor network. Before giving money, women consult and share ideas with peers, friends, work colleagues, other donors, and nonprofit leadership. Collaboration offers less affluent women a chance to be philanthropists as well. Find ways for your nonprofit to offer collaborative opportunities to potential female donors: perhaps giving to a collective fund with the potential to have great impact. To bring potential female donors together, focus events around the fund.
In an increasingly competitive world, certain values and attributes cherished by women are nonetheless becoming more mainstream in business and philanthropy. This ‘kinder, gentler’ outlook embraces diversity, inclusion, open communication, intuition, altruism, and loyalty. So tailor your appeals with these characteristics in mind, using language and messaging that reference these attributes.
It’s estimated that women will control two-thirds of all the wealth in the U.S. by 2030. They’ll also inherit 70 percent of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years, says Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy. It’s only 2015 now—so there’s plenty of time for your organization to catch this trend and develop great strategies to engage women.