Gender Matters: New Research Explores Philanthropic Giving to Women’s Causes

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June 13, 2016; Financial Advisor Online

According to recent research published by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), a research arm of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School for Philanthropy, 44 percent of philanthropists give to women’s and girls’ causes. To break that down further, nearly 15 percent of these donors give to areas that directly impact women and girls, while just over 29 percent give to organizations that focus to some degree on women’s and girls’ issues.

Giving to Women & Girls: Who Gives & Why is WPI’s latest effort to shed light on the state of philanthropy as it relates to women’s and girls’ causes and uncover donor motivations for giving to such areas, particularly on a gender-by-gender basis. Current national surveys on philanthropic giving do not consider “women’s and girls’ issues” as a distinct giving category; instead, it gets bundled into pre-existing categories such as human services. Accordingly, the Institute’s research and findings are of unique importance in informing the sector and influencing donor behavior.

Earlier this week, Dr. Debra Mesch, director of WPI, told Financial Advisor that the information holds value for both nonprofit organizations and the philanthropists that support them: “We hope the donors will use this information to focus their giving and that nonprofit organizations will use it to establish relationships with donors and to better align their work with what donors want.”

On the heels of announcements like Melinda Gates’s co-founding of the Maverick Collective, a network of female philanthropists who give $1 million or more to support women’s and girls’ issues abroad, WPI’s findings on mega-donations to women’s and girls’ issues in particular is timely. The WPI team combed through publicly announced million-dollar-plus gifts that benefitted causes with keywords such as “girl,” “woman,” “reproductive,” and “maternal” and found that between 2000 and 2014, 1,226 gifts worth $6.22 billion were directed specifically to women’s and girls’ issues. While a hefty amount at first glance, the figure represents just 1.6 percent of all gifts included in the database of publicly announced gifts and accounts for a mere 1.2 percent of the total value.

As the rate of women obtaining leadership positions continues to rise, albeit embarrassingly sluggishly so, and subsequent female gains over the nation’s wealth also move upward, a larger call to action for “gender lensed philanthropy” has come into play. In a 2014 interview with Forbes, Women Moving Millions co-chair Jacquelyn Zehner said that women as donors hold the key to unlocking potential, especially that of women and girls, around the world.

Gender lens philanthropy is about creating a greater impact. We need to move away from “one size fits all” approaches to more targeted programs that take into account the unique needs of the populations the programs and intended to serve.

Organizations like Women Moving Millions and the Women’s Philanthropy Institute have taught us that gender plays a crucial role in philanthropy. While the breadth of data is not yet wide enough, research like WPI’s latest study is a tremendous tool to educate the sector on how to better connect with female donors and encourage female donors to leave a larger philanthropic footprint in areas that directly affect women and girls.—Lindsay Walker