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Wealthy Female Donors Who Support Women and Girls Embrace Risk-Taking in Their Philanthropy, Study Finds

High-net-worth women who give $1 million or larger gifts to causes that benefit women and girls share certain key characteristics when it comes to their giving, a new study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute reports. The women:

  • Engage in significant education and research before making their gifts;
  • Make strategic funding decisions focused on driving systemic change; and
  • Are willing to take risks with their philanthropy.  

The report, Giving By and For Women: Understanding High-Net-Worth Donors’ Support for Women and Girls, is the second in a series of studies that explore how and why individuals support women’s and girls’ causes. The series is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study involved interviews with 23 high-net-worth women, all but one of whom was a current member of Women Moving Millions, an international philanthropic network of high-net-worth women established in 2007. Each of the participants in the qualitative study had given or pledged at least $1 million to causes for women and girls. Pseudonyms of the interviewees appear in the report to ensure open and candid responses to questions and to protect respondents’ privacy.

Researchers grouped the responses into broad themes including the donors’ path to large-scale philanthropy; motivations for funding causes that benefit women and girls; their strategic approach to their giving; and their perceptions of their roles as leaders in philanthropy.

Lead researcher Elizabeth Dale, Ph.D., assistant professor at Seattle University, said, “Women can be powerful agents of change with their philanthropy, and their values and goals are often shaped by the societal experiences of being female. Further, we find that contrary to conventional wisdom that says women are more risk-averse than men when considering their finances, these wealthy women are willing to experiment and to take considerable financial risks with their philanthropy in order to advance meaningful change.”

The research builds on a prior Women’s Philanthropy Institute study, which was the first-ever empirical study of individual giving to women’s and girls’ causes.

Women’s Philanthropy Institute Director and holder of the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy, Debra Mesch, Ph.D. said, “This new research is timely given the heightened interest across the government, business and nonprofit sectors in providing support for women and girls around the globe. Our earlier research found that half of women donors and 40 percent of men donors said they give to these types of causes. The more we know about how and why donors give to this area, the better able organizations serving women and girls will be to engage more donors more effectively.”  

As more women accumulate wealth, they are twice as likely as men to leverage their wealth for philanthropy, according to a 2013 U.S. Trust study of high-net-worth women. Research has found that life experiences often guide women’s investment in causes for women and girls. By analyzing women’s motivations, values and experiences with large-scale giving, this study provides a roadmap for all donors to understand the connections between strategic, thoughtful and engaged philanthropy and making systemic change. The study also offers nonprofit practitioners a snapshot of donors with these interests and resources, to deepen awareness and understanding of how and why donors give.

(This article was taken from a press release distributed by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.)



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