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Men and Women Equally Likely to Include Charity in Estate Plans

(Nov. 3, 2009) Gender does not generally predict whether someone who donates to charity is likely to leave a charitable bequest in his or her will, according to a recent study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

In addition to little difference by gender, there also was no difference in the rates of legacy gift planning between single men and single women, after controlling for other factors such as age, educational level, income and marital status.

"The Center's key finding contradicts the conventional wisdom that the ‘typical' bequest donor is a single woman," said Patrick M. Rooney, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy. "Nonprofits are likely to find that men and women with similar incomes, similar ages, and similar educational backgrounds respond with equal interest when asked to make provisions for a bequest."

The research was funded by a grant awarded by AFP and funded by its research partner, Legacy Leaders, a consulting firm with offices in Philadelphia and in Toronto, Canada.

Among donors surveyed about their giving and their charitable bequest provisions, about 16 percent had a charitable bequest in their will.

The only gender-related difference found was that among people who attend religious services frequently, men were more likely than women to say they have made a charitable provision in their will.

Both men and women who had never married were more likely than married or widowed donors to have charitable bequests.

Differences in Motivation Based on Bequests

One of the key aims of the study was to examine if there were any differences in donor motivations based on the presence of a will and a charitable bequest. All three types of donors surveyed--those with a charitable provision in their will, those with a will but no charitable bequest, and those without a will--cited religious beliefs as the second-most common motivation for their overall charitable giving. 

Donors with a bequest cited their sense of responsibility to help those with less as their strongest motivation for their charitable giving. The third-most frequent motivation, after religious beliefs, was their belief that charities deliver services more effectively than government or for-profit organizations.

Compared with men with bequests, a higher percentage of women with bequests cited helping those with less and charities' effectiveness. There were no statistically significant differences between men and women bequest donors in the frequency of citing religious belief as a motivation for giving. The report includes findings on gender differences in donors' motivations for giving for the three donor groups surveyed.

Donors who have a will but do not have a charitable bequest identified similar motivations for giving as donors with a bequest in their will. However, compared with people with a charitable bequest, not having a bequest was associated with lower income, lower level of education, and lower frequency of attendance at religious services.

"For fundraising professionals, the study has several potential implications," says Ken Ramsay, founder of Legacy Leaders. "For example, if appropriate for their organization, they could appeal to people who are likely to have a will but not a bequest by emphasizing how their work meets people's material needs. Feeling a responsibility to help the less-well-off in our society and wanting to provide for people's needs are dominant reasons for giving to charity for people with a will but with no charitable bequest."

Donors With No Wills

Donors without a will were likely to be younger and have lower incomes than were donors with a will. Also, donors without a will were more likely to be unmarried, to be African-American or Latino/Hispanic, or to be infrequent participants in worship services, compared with donors with a will.

"Bequest giving is growing in importance for charities" says Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of AFP. "We're indebted to the Center on Philanthropy and Legacy Leaders for supporting this type of research that will help nonprofits engage donors in a vision for improving communities and society. For example, by understanding what motivates donors, nonprofit organizations have a place to start conversations with loyal donors when they write a will."

About the Study

The research used representative random samples from eight geographic regions of the United States-- two metropolitan areas (Memphis and Kansas City) and six states (Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Michigan). The regional studies were conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and the responses aggregated. The studies were telephone surveys that collected responses to the same questions about charitable giving, bequests, and motivations for giving. Living donors were asked about their current will and charitable bequests (if any). The surveys were conducted in 2003 (one), 2006 (one), 2007 (three), and 2008 (three). The data are representative of the eight regions surveyed.

The full report, Gender Differences in Giving Motivations for Bequest Donors and Non-Donors is available here.

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