What is your superpower? At the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, we’re focused on advancing social good through research and we’re beginning to see the incredible power it has to challenge assumptions, change behaviors, and transform philanthropy.
Research over the past five years has revealed more than 125 data points which contribute to a deeper understanding about how and why gender matters in philanthropy. For anyone beginning a philanthropic journey and for those who are further along on the journey, the data is a helpful resource for learning about donor behaviors, giving vehicles, and trends. But first, it’s important to know what’s fact vs. fiction.
Here are five common myths about gender and philanthropy that have been debunked by research.
Men give more than women. FALSE
When the research controls for factors that affect giving such as income, wealth, and education, findings show that female-headed households are more likely to give and give more than male-headed households in almost every income group and across marital status. While it is true that in the U.S., men have more assets than women, women are more likely to want to use their resources for the common good. A U.S. Trust report on women and wealth found that women “are nearly twice as likely as men to say that giving to charity is the most satisfying aspect of having wealth.”
Women in communities of color do not give. FALSE
Women Give 2019: Gender and Giving Across Communities of Color found that generosity is a value shared by all communities. This study reveals that, like the research cited above, gender differences are consistent across race: In communities of color, single women are more likely than single men to give, and married couples are more likely than single men or women to give. In some cases, donors may prioritize race to guide their philanthropic activity; in other cases, they may show preference for a gender-lens focus. A third pattern is guided by the intersection of race and gender. All parts of a donor’s identity help to shape philanthropic giving.
Women defer to their husbands in household charitable giving. FALSE
Joint decision-making appears to be the norm for most American households. In the general population, around 75% of households make their giving decisions jointly. From our research on higher income brackets, findings show that 50% of households make joint decisions. This difference is a result of fewer high net worth joint deciders; there are more male-only deciders as well as more women making their own decisions separate from their husbands in this group.
Women do not make big gifts. FALSE
A WPI study found that boomer and older women in the top 25% of combined income and assets give 156% more to charity than men. (As in the previous study, this research accounts for factors that affect charitable giving such as income, wealth, and education.) For a real life example, we can look to Dartmouth College’s previous fundraising campaign which raised four gifts of $1 million from women. The current campaign is on track to raise 100 gifts of $1 million or more from women.
From a demographic perspective, women’s financial power continues to increase. Nearly 40% of the nation’s top 2 million wealth holders are women, with $5.15 trillion in assets and 51% of total personal wealth in the U.S., about $14 trillion, is currently controlled by women.
Men do not support women’s and girls’ causes. FALSE
While research has found that women are more likely than men to give to causes for women and girls, men do support them, too. One study found that nearly one in five men have given to these causes; another found that nearly half of men contribute to them. One potential way to increase those percentages is by examining the impact of social norms of charitable giving.
A recent study found that social norms and charitable giving are strongly linked; the relationship between social norms and giving to causes for women and girls is stronger for men than for women. As men become aware of others’ interest in giving to these causes, their intentions to donate to them increase, too. When messaging focuses on the rising popularity of women’s and girls’ causes, both men and women are more likely to donate to this issue area.
The 2019 announcements of Melinda Gates’ $1 billion for gender equality and the $20 million investment from four foundations to build capacity for women’s funds and foundations globally may provide the prompt to increase giving by women and men to these causes.
Together, we can leverage the superpower of research to challenge common misperceptions about who is philanthropic and to create a more gender-balanced approach to philanthropy. Let’s change the philanthropic landscape together.