Are women setting a new standard for giving? We unpack research to explain differences in giving motivations and favoured charitable causes between women and men.
This is part 2 of a 2-part series on women and giving.
In likely the largest one-time donation in history, billionaire MacKenzie Scott is estimated to have given away $6 billion in 2020 to a carefully selected list of over 300 charities. Scott’s giving gained attention for its unmatched magnitude, as well as for charities selected based on need rather than status.
Scott directed millions of dollars to charities operating with very modest budgets, like several community colleges, universities, and social service organizations. Many donations went to organizations led by women and people of colour—some that had never received gifts anywhere near as large.
Scott’s million-dollar donations did not come with restrictions or requirements, often seen with large gifts. “Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft. Not only are non-profits chronically underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fundraising, and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them,” explained Scott in a Medium post.
Vogue magazine and The New York Times both credited Scott with upending the charitable world. But does all of this add up to a very atypical kind of giving? Actually, the research shows Scott’s way of giving may not be all that exceptional when considered through a gendered lens.
Why do women give—and is it different than why men give?
Researchers still don’t know a ton about differences in giving motivations between men and women. In an attempt to delve into the topic, the U.S.-based Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) looked not only at differences between men and women, but also at how factors like marriage status and income play a role in giving decisions.
The report found that, in high-net-worth households where women are making the giving decisions, donations are more likely to go towards youth and family, health, and international causes; men are more likely to choose religion and education. High-net-worth women who are single are more likely to choose to support the arts and the environment; whereas, their male counterparts tend more support to combination organizations (like the United Way).
When the woman’s income increases within a married household, the couple is more likely to increase their giving to charities providing basic human needs. A 2021 WPI report found that 61.5% of couples make giving decisions together, which is interestingly a decline from 73.4% in 2005.
Other key findings in the WPI’s 2015 report included:
- Single women are more likely than single men to cite their political, philosophical beliefs, and being on a board or volunteering for an organization as motivations for giving.
- Men are more likely to give to political campaigns and through workplace giving, while women may be more apt to choose charities that align with their interests.
- Women tend to give to a larger number of organizations than men, spreading out the impact of their giving further through the charitable sector.
According to the study, certain observed psychological factors—like that women are more inclined towards empathy and are more risk-averse—could explain why women respond to need and give to a greater number of charities. Research has shown women tend to display concern for the needs of others and feel like it is a moral obligation to help. Still, these differences may not completely account for why women give more often.
Women giving to causes related to health, immediate needs
Canadian statistics reflect similar motivations for giving among women. According to a 2014 research paper on Canadian women and philanthropy, Canadian women surveyed were often motivated to give because of a need, as well as by their own upbringing, their faith, or a life-altering event. They were more likely to support health and social causes, and gave frequently to causes related to poverty, health, children, women’s rights, and education.
Women often support the organizations they care personally about, can identify with, and see as trustworthy charities. “Women donors also make a considerable effort to assess the nature, make-up, and financial condition of charities before a gift or pledge is made,” according to the study.
They may use a variety of tools to understand the impact of their giving such as annual reports, seeking guidance from financial advisors, and establishing close relationships with charities. A 2016 addendum to the report found “women are more likely to cite the visible impact of donations as being a critical factor when deciding to make an investment.” Compared to men, they were more likely to give locally.
Just as with their U.S. counterparts, health often comes as a favoured cause among Canadian women. Statistics Canada’s 2010 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating found 57% of women reported at least one donation to a health organization, compared with 49% of men.
Women were more likely than men to have given to organizations involved in social services and to hospitals. Women also favoured giving to the environment—although it was the least popular recorded cause, attracting about 8% of women donors and 6% of men donors. Men very slightly favoured sports and recreation organizations (15% of men donors, compared with 14% of women donors).
How do women give?
Research has also observed how women give—by sharing not only their wealth, but also their knowledge, time, and talent. The 2014 TD Bank report revealed that “for most women, their primary definition of philanthropy is framed in terms of effort, commitment, and a basic desire to help others by sacrificing personal resources and time, rather than in dollars and cents alone.”
This is not entirely new. Women have historically shared their time, skills, and knowledge, often taking the lead in launching charitable organizations and establishing services for those in need. Looking at Canadian historical examples of philanthropy, you will find Harriet Dobbs, who started charities for the poor and advocated for women in prison. Artist Wilhelmina Alexander helped nurture younger artists by offering exhibition space in her own home.
In another unique facet to their philanthropy, women are more apt to give as a collective. Giving circles are family, community, or even foundation groups for pooling donations which are mostly dominated by women (70% have more than half women members). In the United States, giving circles have contributed $1.29 billion to philanthropy and are becoming a more prominent philanthropic force—tripling in number since 2007.
Giving Groups on Charitable Impact can provide the same functionality by bringing together family, friends, and networks to give. With a Giving Group, multiple people can combine forces, pool, or raise money, and support one or more charities or causes together. Members can add money and then choose charities to give to, providing a pathway to learning from others about charities facing high levels of need.
Another approach to giving
Philanthropy is often considered under the paradigm of the very wealthy supporting ambitious projects and programs. There is increasing room for other approaches to giving.
Women’s identities can intersect with race and ethnicity, and their communities and experiences can also offer divergent perspectives on philanthropy. “There is often a very narrow definition of philanthropy. From my perspective, what we give in terms of formal donations and getting a tax receipt is very different from what giving looks like in communities of colour and Black communities,” said Co-Founder of the Foundation for Black Communities and Non-Profit Consultant Rebecca Darwent.
Giving clothing and food, mentoring children, providing caregiving services are ways that women often give, said Darwent. There are also communal giving or group micro-lending models that exist in African and Caribbean countries. “That kind of cyclical thinking of giving is sometimes missed when you are looking at a straight dollar amount,” she said.
Additionally, Darwent emphasizes that formal ways of measuring giving often leave out remittances—money that is transferred by people living in the diaspora back to their family and communities in their home country. “I was raised in a culture where we said charity starts at home,” said Darwent, whose mother is an immigrant to Canada from Guyana.
Emerging conversations around divergent forms of philanthropy often fall under the umbrella of what is being coined “feminist philanthropy.”
Kristen Corning Bedford, author of A Generous Heart: Changing the World through Feminist Philanthropy, said: “Philanthropy might look dependent on how much money you have, but there’s a lot of money in the world and we still haven’t solved homelessness or many other issues. I don’t think solutions are going to be contingent on how much money there is, but rather, in people engaging with the conversation with creativity and innovation—thinking differently about solutions.”
When philanthropist MacKenzie Scott gave away several billion dollars last year, she focused on evidence of need and the existing or potential impact of an organization. Rooted in listening and learning, trust-based philanthropy is seen as a way to uplift chronically underfunded organizations and causes.
Charities supporting women and girls are not excluded. According to one Canadian report, in the 1980s, a meagre 2% of donations from corporations and foundations were helping women and girls.
There have been recent positive developments. In 2020, the Government of Canada announced $100 million in funding for “projects that increase women and girls’ participation in Canada’s economic, social, democratic and political life.” In another high-profile example last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation hired a Gender Equality President.
Data from Charitable Impact collected in 2021 shows that giving to causes supporting women and girls has increased on pace with giving to other causes. Over the course of the past year, the amount of allocations to this cause increased by 178%. On our platform so far, donors have given more than $5 million to charities supporting women and girls.
Where do we go from here?
As we reflect on an exceptional year, there is certainly more to observe and question about trends in giving behaviours and motivations beyond gender differences. Donors in 2020 displayed generosity despite enormous personal and economic challenges. More mutual aid or giving circle approaches to giving quickly emerged (note their longer history and connection to immigrant communities).
There was understanding that organizations needed to quickly respond to needs. Some Canadian foundations removed or modified reporting requirements to account for the urgency of a pandemic. “To say we are going to donate in a way where we trust who is receiving the money to deploy the resources in a way that they see fit—we are well overdue for that. And I think the entire sector is going through a shift, which is refreshing,” said Darwent.
Will these trends continue even as we exit the pandemic? And will more donors think about giving to meet needs in a way that is effective? Will donors think about how they can give money charitably, but also of their time and talent?
Perhaps some of these developments have sparked some of your own thinking about why, how, and where you give. If you are hoping to make an immediate difference, are you giving in a way that enables that? Do you give when asked or do you seek out to give to charities that need your donation the most—regardless of how much you are able to give? How will you track, assess, or seek to understand the impact of your giving?
Whatever your giving strategy—whether you convene with a Giving Group, give through your employer giving program, or give as an individual—your generosity is making a difference. Taking the time to think about the “why” of your giving can make your giving journey more meaningful, no matter the path it takes.
Manage your charitable giving and create the change you want to see in the world. All from one place. With an Impact Account, you can give to any of Canada’s +86K registered charities. You can also send charitable dollars, give with friends, and start a Giving Group. Reach out to us with any questions about your giving via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (1-877-531-0580), or chat.
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