Women philanthropists are changing with the times, says new research

Women philanthropists are changing with the times, says new research


The stereotype of a philanthropist being a suited middle-aged man of means is being challenged by the increasing involvement of and growing profile of women philanthropists, who are the subject of a recent US national survey.

Focusing on the philanthropy of Baby Boomer women born between 1945 and 1960 and Gen X women born between 1961 and 1980, the survey was conducted by philanthropy pioneer Sondra Shaw-Hardy and Carmen Stevens, director of philanthropic services at the Falconer Group, a family wealth advisory firm in the US.

They surveyed 176 women philanthropists across America who work in a variety of fields, ranging from professor, artist and homemaker to physician, lawyer and publisher. Their gift sizes ranged from $200 to $4m annually.

The two groups of women were chosen because the researchers felt they were leading the way in philanthropy, and this is the first survey to target and compare the giving trends of these two generations.

Notably, the findings show that the giving preferences of Gen X women fit what Philanthropy UK observes as the profile of ‘new’ philanthropists, suggesting that there may be little difference between genders amongst Gen X givers.

Carmen Stevens told Philanthropy UK: “Anecdotally there is evidence that both genders of the Gen X generation desire partnerships and accept a role of donor/partner in their giving.”

A Gen X woman herself, Stevens says the generation desires “hands-on” engagement that differs from the philanthropy of previous generations. “They want to engage in volunteer trips and/or learning journeys as a way to give and learn about the needs of an institution’s constituents.

Time is much more valuable to Gen X women; they see that giving of their time is just as important as giving financially.” In contrast, Boomer women were prepared to give both at least equally.

Other areas in which the two generations differed were:

  • Gen X want to give away their money during their lifetime while Boomers want their giving to go on beyond their lifetime through their children and grandchildren.  This trend toward lifetime giving is supported by Philanthropy UK’s recent research
  • Boomer women are more likely to give with their spouse, whereas more Gen X women expect to receive an inheritance and make more of their gifting through family wealth using family foundations.
  • Boomer women were more likely than Gen X women to give to large institutions.
  • Boomer women were more comfortable than Gen X with public recognition of their giving, whereas Gen X’rs said they would accept recognition if it was for the pure benefit of the organisation.

Both generations of women gave to a variety of causes with education being the most widely supported.

The research also indicates that women are giving independently and that traditional financial advisors are "not a significant factor” in women’s giving decisions.

Women are looking for more choices than the traditional routes provide,” Stevens explained. “Women’s choices are value and connections-based and indicate that their decisions are made either independently, with their spouse or through giving circles.

She stated that this provides a great opportunity for financial advisors, banks, and accountants to learn how to engage effectively with women who want to give. “Institutions will benefit by helping women define their passion and values through their philanthropy.”

This observation is supported by philanthropic trends revealed by the survey that women are influencing gifting decisions in couple giving, and that they want to be ‘“partners for change” with the beneficiary institutions. 

The authors conclude: “Women view philanthropy as an investment in the future.”