Women and Philanthropy – The Giving Potential of Women

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend a panel discussion being hosted by Northern Trust and American Red Cross. The topic: ‘The Perfect Gift’ – a discussion intended to provide insights on women and philanthropy and the giving potential of women. Since I am involved in a volunteer and Board member capacity with a few different non-profit agencies, and since I do have a personal strategy regarding donations that I contribute to non-profit agencies, I was extremely interested to hear what the panel had to share on this topic.

When it comes to who has the dollars to give, women heft a hearty punch!



  • Women make up 43% of the nation’s top wealth holders (those with gross assets of $1.5 million or more) according to the IRS. Their combined net worth is $4.4 trillion. (“The New Face of Philanthropy” – The Wall Street Journal; October 6, 2008)
  • The National Women’s Business Council estimates that women own 30% of all companies – a total of 7.8 million companies. These companies generate $1.2 trillion in annual sales. (National Women’s Business Council 2012 Annual Report)
  • Nine out of ten women will manage their own finances at some point in their lives. (Marks, Michael – Merrill Lynch)
  • Because women live longer than men by an average of 5.2 years, they will inherit 70% of the $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth transfer expected over the next 40 years. (DeBoskey, Bruce. “Women Changing The Face Of Philanthropy” Denver Post. July 22, 2012; and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.) In addition, many women will inherit twice over their lifetimes – from both their parents and their partner.
  • As of 2009, there are more than 145 member funds of the Women’s Funding Network; the funds have collective total assets of $465 million and disburse an estimated $60 million a year in grants. (“Accelerating Change for Women and Girls: The Role of Women’s Funds.” The Foundation Center and Women’s Funding Network, 2009.)
  • In 2011 the Global Fund for Women – the largest grant-making foundation in the world dedicated exclusively to advancing women’s rights internationally – awarded $7.75 million in grants to nearly 500 organizations across the globe. (Global Fund for Women Annual Report FY2011-2012.)

In addition, we care mightily about the outcome those dollar donations yield and the long-term sustainability of that initial investment. In “The 2011 Study of High Net Worth December 2011 Women’s Philanthropy” by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, it was identified that only 14.7% of high-net-worth women are willing to tolerate above-average or substantial levels of risk when investing philanthropic assets, compared to 24.4% of high-net-worth men.

Our giving patterns are distinctly different from those of our male counterparts. We tend to give to organizations that in some fashion or another have impacted either our life or the life of someone we know. If there is an organization for which either we or our families have volunteered, we are likely to also contribute to those organizations financially as well. It becomes more personal for us, both on an individual level as well as on a community level. We see how that dollar we invest in our community can significantly impact the financial wellbeing of those communities, and that matters to us. The research supports the differences in giving patterns between women and men.

  • Women in the United States give an average of 3.5% of their wealth to charity, while men give an average of 1.8% (“Tomorrow’s Philanthropist,” Barclays Wealth, released July 2009).
  • Single women are significantly more likely than single men to make charitable gifts, and married couples give more than single men. (“What Women Want”, Blackbaud, Inc. March 2009.)
  • Married men and married women are both more likely to give and make larger gifts than single men, indicating that women’s propensity for giving influences the philanthropic habits of their husbands. (The Center on Philanthropy At Indiana University (philanthropy.iupui.edu)
  • Married females give more than single males and married males. (Mesch, Debra Ph.D. “Shaping the Future of Women’s Philanthropy Research Agenda” The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.)
  • Nearly half of all women who have estates worth $5 million or more leave a charitable bequest, while only one-third of wealthy men do. (“What Women Want”, Blackbaud, Inc. March 2009.)

At this particular event, co-hosted by the Red Cross, they brought this concept alive by sharing what they have done to foster this community of women philanthropists to further aid their organization’s work. They have a program named the Tiffany Circle which brings women philanthropists together in support of the work of the American Red Cross. These women mean business, with a minimum personal investment of $10,000 required to join the Tiffany Circle. The impact of their invested dollars is felt both in the communities the American Red Cross serves, as well as by the women investors themselves, as they become part of a powerful international network of women joined in philanthropic diplomacy and united by common values. The American Red Cross reinforces the unity amongst the Tiffany Circle community. They have their own National Council, they host a summit each spring in Washington, D.C. to network and learn how these women are making an impact locally, nationally and globally.

The panel was moderated by Marguerite Griffin, Senior Vice President, National Director of Philanthropic Services, Northern Trust. The three women on the panel were:

  • Connie Lindsey, Executive Vice President, Northern Trust
  • Judy Boler McCormack, Trustee, Boler Family Foundation
  • Diana Mendley Rauner, President, Ounce of Prevention Fund

All three women on the panel are philanthropists. Connie’s involvement stemmed from her life experiences. In Judy’s case, her father started with nothing and then built their family wealth. Her parents always gave larger personal gifts, and when they established their foundation eight years ago it was with the intent to continue this legacy of family giving. Diana and her husband have always shared a passion for giving back. They have six children, and the challenge and opportunity for them is instilling that desire to be involved and to give back into that next generation in their family.

Connie emphasized that there is real power in how we as women can affect societal and community change. She brought up the work on breast cancer. There is a real opportunity to make a difference and to see how it can influence your own wealth strategy. Judy emphasized again the power of combining your gift with the gifts of other women. She shared a quote she loves: “When it starts snowing and you see one snowflake outside it doesn’t look like it can do much damage; but if you get enough of them you can stop traffic.” Diana pointed out that while she does think there has been a revolution in women’s philanthropy, she doesn’t feel we are all the way there yet, that there is still a lot more work to do to understand the power and impact of women’s giving. She feels that women are still anxious about making large dollar commitments and being comfortable with financial power in the philanthropic space. They all agreed that it’s a lot easier to get the ‘aha’ moment with women; but that the challenge is being bold and making the philanthropic investments we should as women, and that we need to invest programmatically, systematically and politically.

I am sure that many of you reading this, as I do, donate both your time and your money to non-profits. I am sure that many of you, as I do, constantly tell ourselves that we can do more, and look for ways to do more. I know that as this discussion wrapped up, I found myself thinking about that concept, how can I do more, in a different light. It was not just about how I can do more as an individual, but it became how can I do more by combining what I do philanthropically with other like-minded women, to magnify the impact. So as I embark upon that path, this blog posting became my first step in that journey. Spreading the word, so that more women can hear this important message: Let’s combine our efforts and our power as women philanthropists, and find “The Perfect Gift” in a way that the impact is multiplies again…and again…and again!