December 2011; Source: Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University | As women gain more access to education and income, they’re an increasing force in philanthropy. To better understand their influence, Bank of America Merrill Lynch recently commissioned a study by The Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University; the study focused on charitable giving by high-net-worth women. Three overarching findings should be of interest to nonprofit leaders: women’s motivations for charitable giving differ from men’s motivations; women desire different relationships with the organizations they support; and when women participate in giving circles/networks that cultivate peer learning, they have more trust in the nonprofit sector’s efficacy than other high-wealth female donors.

High-wealth women heavily influence the flow of their household’s charitable giving. Among nearly 90 percent of high-net-worth individuals, women are either the sole decision makers or equal decision makers about philanthropic donations. High-wealth men and women share three of their respective top four motivations for giving: wanting to make a difference, supporting organizations that use resources efficiently, and feeling financially secure enough to give. In terms of other motivations, however, gender differences emerge. Women are more likely to be motivated to give back to their community, to support organizations where they volunteer, or to set an example for young people. Women are less likely than men to be motivated by having supported the same organization or cause in past years. They’re almost three times more likely than men to want personal engagement in the work of organizations they support.

While both men and women with high net worth volunteer at much higher rates than the American average (26.3%), high net worth women volunteer at the highest rate (86.3%) of all. These women are more likely than men to have high confidence in the ability of nonprofit organizations (as one type of societal institution) to address social problems. High-wealth women are more likely than men to have specific charitable strategies and budgets. They are, however, also more risk-averse.

Giving networks have emerged as a particularly popular channel for women’s charitable giving. High-net-worth women who participate in giving networks are more likely to be motivated by the opportunity to give back to the community than those who don’t, and they are more confident in the capacity of nonprofits and individuals to solve domestic and global problems. Their giving is less driven by politics/philosophy, issues that affect them personally, or spontaneous decisions.

Does this information suggest changes in how your organization should cultivate women donors?—Kathi Jaworski