Women’s Equality and Societal Progress

Women are more likely than men to give to women’s and girls’ causes, though “the differences are not as great as might have otherwise been expected.” That’s just one of the fascinating conclusions found in Giving to Women and Girls: Who Gives and Why, the latest study released in May 2016 as a part of a first of its kind research initiative of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

We’ve long known that only about five to seven percent of all foundation giving is specifically targeted at charitable work impacting women and girls but little was known about how gender impacts the choices of individual donors. This series of studies funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offered the first empirical research that could be brought into the conversation about gender differences in philanthropy. The earlier research papers, “Do Women Give More?” and “Where Do Men and Women Give?,” were discussed in the Peninsula Pulse when they were released last year.

One of the interesting things about this newest study is how giving to women’s and girls’ causes is relatively consistent among different demographic groups. One would reasonably expect that women are far more likely than men to give to charities that impact females. However, the researchers were surprised to find that while roughly 50 percent of female donors give specifically to women’s and girls’ causes, about 40 percent of male donors choose to do so as well. Similarly, the study found that married (or cohabitating) couples “are not statistically significantly more likely to give to women’s and girls’ causes compared to single-headed households.”

The study also found that “race, education level, the presence of children below the age of 18 in the household, and employment status do not appear to impact the incidence or amount of giving to women’s and girls’ causes.” A family’s income is the one demographic that does have a significant correlation in giving to this population. Those with higher incomes are considerably more likely to give to charities impacting women and girls and also tend to make larger gifts when doing so.

The researchers also were able to identify the two key motivations that drive giving to women’s and girls’ causes.

First, this study found that women’s charitable preferences are greatly influenced by personal experience, which is consistent with the conclusions of earlier research. In what seems like a fairly obvious conclusion in retrospect, the researchers found that for women donors, “their personal experience of being a woman; experiencing gaps, disparities and/or discrimination in society” was a strong motivator for giving to charities that serve females.

In a comment indicative of the feelings of many donors, one person said they had little interest in women’s and girls’ causes until “I had two daughters, and that was really the turning point for me…thinking about the world they were going to inherit.” Experiencing discrimination themselves, or witnessing it first-hand, was a key motivator for those who choose to give to charities that impact females.

The second and more intriguing motivation is that donors are increasingly seeing the link between “advancing women’s equality” and “societal progress.” This is something that many professional fundraisers had begun to intuit, but which has never before been affirmed by empirical research.

The study concluded that many donors are “motivated by the need for women to have equality of opportunity at a societal level, which can address other societal issues. Both current donors and non-donors explained they were motivated to support these causes because of research showing that investing in women and girls yields greater social return, including addressing underlying issues such as poverty and a lack of education.”

As a part of the study, a series of focus groups were convened with people who contributed to United Ways and women’s funds across the country. The study found that donors are greatly influenced by the “research and statistics [that] support the premise that investing in women and girls yields a greater social impact, and that such researched informed and supported their own philanthropic decisions.”

In the restrained language that is a characteristic of academic research, the authors humbly referred to this very important link as “a new finding.” Yet it has monumental implications for organizations that serve females because this key driver of giving is not limited only to those who are current donors. The researchers found that “this idea was also voiced by those who were not currently giving to women and girls but would consider doing so in the future.”

Previous studies have demonstrated that women are much more likely to contribute to charity and in greater amounts. Just as a business needs to understand the needs and desires of its customers, so too must charities delve into what motivates the generosity of their donors. This research shines a bright new light on how gender affects charitable giving. The charities of Door County would be wise to understand how those gender differences influence contributions to their organization.

This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on June 3, 2016.

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