BY ELIZABETH CHILD
Women are earning more money and making more financial decisions than ever before. But will they open their purses to make the "stretch gifts" that truly make a difference?
Successful careers, investments made during recent "boom" years, and inheritances from parents or husbands have given women more economic power than their mothers or grandmothers could ever imagine. Women drive more than 80 percent of consumer purchasing decisions and stand to inherit 70 percent of $41 trillion transferred in the next 40 years.
That should be good news for charities and nonprofits, especially since women have a greater propensity to give than men. Although they may give more often, however, women don’t give as much. Stories of wealthy men saying yes to six- or seven-figure gifts are unmatched in women’s giving circles.
Often sociological barriers rather than household income keep
women from making well-considered, focused gifts. Even so, it’s
probably hard to find a woman of means who didn’t send a gift
for relief efforts in Haiti. Women are moved by need, yet
they also worry about having enough money in their old
St. Paul–based financial consultant, educator and author Ruth Hayden has found that women’s attitudes about money die hard. "They still want someone else to tell them what to do with their money," she says. And they avoid looking at their big financial picture. Women who feel secure about their financial futures are far more likely to make giving a priority in their lifetimes — and to experience the joy that giving brings.
St. Catherine University saw women "begin to step into their own sense of themselves as givers" during the successful Leadership in Mind campaign (which concluded in 2005), says Vice President for External Relations Marjorie Mathison Hance ’70. "That’s exciting," she adds.
Even so, women tend to be more comfortable with a bequest, which the University realizes after their death, than with making a gift while they are still living. "We appreciate their generosity at any time," says Mathison Hance, "but they miss the joy and fun of being part of launching a major program or meeting the students whose lives they’ve touched."
St. Catherine has incorporated financial education into its curriculum with its award-winning "Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees" program. Learning to manage personal finances is especially important to the 92 percent of students who receive financial aid and the many who will face a challenging economy and student loans upon graduating.
Supporting women is one of society’s best investments, according to Lee Roper-Bakter, executive director of the Minnesota Women’s Foundation. "When a woman thrives, her community thrives and her state thrives," she says.
The true definition of philanthropy is "love of humankind," and women demonstrate that with their tendency to give small donations to numerous causes. They’re less comfortable with what experts call the "stretch gift." Women today still have obstacles to overcome in embracing the power of strategic giving — including making sizable, focused donations to institutions where they want to have an impact.
Below, several experts in women’s philanthropy offer up barriers, trends and advice about how women can experience the fulfillment of making a difference in areas that matter deeply to them.
BARRIER: "I am not important enough to be called a philanthropist."
TREND: Despite women’s tendency to play it safe with their money, they can be both guardians and givers. The common perception of philanthropists is that they are career-givers and incalculably rich. Even though historically men have been thought of as philanthropists, women such as Oprah Winfrey and Melinda Gates fit the perception today.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Go ahead, call yourself a philanthropist. Andrea Pactor, associate director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, believes women who give at any level need to embrace the term. "Being a philanthropist isn’t necessarily only about money," she says. "It’s about passion, legacy, time, commitment and investing in causes you feel strongly about." Add up your annual giving and multiply it by the giving years you may have left, Pactor says. For example, if you’re 40, you may give for another 45 years. When you look at the total over time, it becomes easier to say, "I am a philanthropist."
BARRIER: "My husband makes the giving decisions because he earns the money."
TREND: Women whose work is focused on home and volunteering often don’t feel the family’s money is theirs to give. Charitable giving in a traditional marriage tends to reflect the husband’s preferences. This trend is largely generational and changing dramatically. Women who earn their own money tend to make their own giving decisions. Today, 80 percent of college-educated American women are in the workforce compared with 62 percent in 1963, according to a recent article in The Economist.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Create your own giving. Hayden tells the couples she counsels: "There’s your giving, my giving and our giving." Carve out "my giving" and give it the same credence and importance as your partner’s giving. Learn to hold your personal power by making financial decisions, even if you are not the family’s primary wage earner.
BARRIER: "If I give away my money, I may end up a bag lady someday."
TREND: A new Pew Research Center report found that 22 percent of women between ages 30 and 44 now earn more money than their spouses, and more women than men in the age group are college graduates, which usually increases their earning power.
Surprisingly, though, women of all ages — including those in the highest income brackets and women who earn their own money — still fear having an impoverished old age. In fact, 48 percent of women with incomes in excess of $100,000 believe they may become "bag ladies," according to a study by Allianz Life Insurance Company.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Educate yourself about finance. "All change starts with a decision to change," Hayden likes to say. If you want to get control of your savings, investments and giving, stop relying solely on the expertise of others — including your financial planner. Building a foundation of knowledge will lead to financial security and allow you to experience the intrinsic rewards of giving.
BARRIER: "I have no giving plan. I give based on what is in my checkbook."
TREND: Women tend to give because they’re asked. Rather than having a strategy for giving, they give "frequently and in small amounts," Hayden says. Men give less often, but they make bigger gifts — and derive more power as a result.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Give consistently to three or four causes. By examining your values and choosing where to give, you control where you have an impact and build satisfying relationships with your benefactors. Furthermore, you no longer will be at the whim of canvassers and telemarketers. (Most people do reserve some funds for friends who ask and for causes that move them.)
BARRIER: "I want to see the difference my contribution is making."
TREND: Women, especially younger women, want to feel a strong connection with the organizations that they support. Jen Olson, MLIS’04, is part of Generation X, the group born between 1961 and 1981. "We were brought up thinking about return on investment and the bottom line," says Olson, a partner in Seed Partners, which advises corporations and non-profits on consumer trends. "We treat our charitable giving no differently than we treat our investments."
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Give to organizations or causes with which you have a connection. The organizations that have made a difference in your life touch you, and you trust them. Although women commonly choose to give to churches and alma maters, they also support causes in honor of friends and family.
Ask for the "ROI." Ask an organization for the percentage of funding that goes to recipients and specifically how recipients are helped. Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org, gives its highest, 4-star rating to charities that devote more than 80 percent of their budgets to programs and services.
Give in your lifetime. Your connection with your giving grows when you can see how your gifts enhance people’s lives. Witnessing your values expressed through your gifts brings lasting fulfillment.
Volunteer. You’ll feel more connected to a nonprofit organization when you spend time with its staff and recipients.
BARRIER: "I make major gifts, but I give anonymously."
TREND: Most giving experts say men like to see their names on buildings, while women who make major gifts tend to remain anonymous. Women don’t like to call attention to ways in which they are different from their peers. From a young age, girls learn to emphasize similarities more than differences, according to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.
Unfortunately, women who don’t want to be recognized tend to spread out their giving, and anonymity does not inspire other women to give big.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Allow your name to be associated with your gifts. Being recognized is not about flaunting wealth, it’s about inspiring other women to make a difference. "We need to find people in the community who are willing to be recognized, appreciated and celebrated for their giving," Pactor says. "Let’s stand up and be loud and proud."
BARRIER: "My small gift won’t make a difference."
TREND: Roper-Bakter says women are the face of poverty in the world, but "women can also be powerhouses in collective philanthropy." Philanthropic women are finding a voice in giving that honors their collaborative, caring nature, and they are learning that even small gifts inspire other gifts.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Join others in giving. Start a giving circle with people of like interests who pool resources and decide where to make a mark. Individually or as a group, you also can present a challenge grant to encourage others to match your giving.
Give often. If you collect a paycheck, it’s easy to have a portion of each check directed to one or more nonprofits. You’ll hardly notice a little less in your bank account, but over time your donations will add up to substantial support for the organizations that matter to you.
Make a planned gift. Leave a legacy by designating a charity as a beneficiary of your retirement account, life insurance policy or estate. It won’t hurt your pocketbook now, and you can rest assured that you will make a significant gift to a cause that matters to you.
Writer and communications consultant Elizabeth Child is a founding member