Giving in the news: Women Take the Lead in Couples’ Charitable-Giving Decisions

Women Take the Lead in Couples’ Charitable-Giving Decisions

Published May 19 in The Chronicle of Philanthropy

By Paula Wasley

Women are taking an increasingly prominent role in determining their household’s charitable giving, with high-income women in particular more likely to seek financial advice and use sophisticated methods when making donations, according to a new study sponsored by Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund.

An online survey of 1,000 adults who had given $1,000 or more to charity in 2007 — half of whom had donated $5,000 or more — found that more women than men act as their household’s primary decision maker in determining how much to donate to charity and which causes to support.

Among participants in the survey — 80 percent of whom were married — the majority of male respondents named their spouse as the primary influencer in charitable-giving decisions, while women in the study were more likely to name a range in influencers that included family members, friends, and co-workers.

Women in the survey also felt more strongly about involving their children in philanthropy. Nearly half of the women in the study (48 percent) strongly agreed that it was important to them that their children continue their tradition of charitable giving, as compared with 39 percent of men in the study.

Upper Tier

While the average household income for participants in the survey was $136,000, the study particularly looked at the giving habits of the 11 percent of respondents who were women with household incomes of at least $150,000.

The survey found that, in comparison to the other respondents, these high-income women were more likely to make public rather than anonymous gifts to charity, to use more complicated financial structures to make gifts, and to seek the guidance of financial advisors when making charitable contributions.

For example, 7 percent of women in this group said they had made gifts of securities to charity, as compared to 4 percent of all respondents, and 3 percent of men of comparable household incomes.

And 16 percent of high-income women said they had used a donor advised fund, charitable remainder trust, or a private foundation to make contributions, as compared with 9 percent of all donors, and 10 percent of high-income men.

High-income women were also more likely than others in the survey to donate to health and science causes and to make additional gifts to charity in response to increasing needs and difficult economic times, the survey found.

The survey’s findings offer insights into how women are likely to shape the future of philanthropy, says Sarah C. Libbey, Fidelity’s president. “Women have always had a hand in their household’s charitable outreach, but that role is evolving as women increasingly create their own wealth and become beneficiaries of wealth transfers because they live longer,” said Ms. Libbey, in a written statement. “We, and other nonprofit organizations, should pay more attention to this very influential group of donors.”

Researchers also grouped respondents into four distinct donor “profiles” based on their giving patterns and attitudes toward philanthropy.

The “mainstream contributor” — which accounted for 52 percent of those in the study — was less likely than others to increase giving in difficult economic times. And, when cutting back on the percentage of the household income contributed to charity, donors in this category tend to give to the same number of causes as in previous years but decrease the size of their gifts. Donors who fell into this category gave an average of $6,842 to charity in 2008.

Nearly a third of the respondents in the study were identified as “empathetic givers” who were more likely to give more in tough economic times and to respond to a cause when personally touched by illness or tragedy. Respondents in this group gave an average of $7,287 in 2008.

About 15 percent of those surveyed were described as “reactive contributors” who, in comparison to the other groups, give a smaller percentage of their household income to charity and are more likely to reduce their donations in difficult economic times. Total donations from individuals in this group averaged $3,687 in 2008.

Just 4 percent of respondents were identified as “pioneering givers.” Donors in this group gave away the highest percentage of their income to charity, were more likely to give to new and lesser-known causes, and more frequently used credit cards or securities to make donations. Individuals in this group gave an average of $7,347 to charity in 2008.

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