Women in Philanthropy: Candid Conversations with Top Donors

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This article was first published December 12, 2012.

As professional fundraisers, staying current with trends in giving is a prime responsibility. That said, the growing influence of women on philanthropy that began quietly some years ago has become one of today’s hottest topics. With women controlling an ever-greater proportion of private wealth, coupled with the fact that women will be the recipients of as much as 70% of the wealth transferred through inheritance over the next 40 years, it is time for a laser-like focus on the what, why, and how of women’s philanthropy.

As in other aspects of our lives, women’s philanthropic decision-making and giving practices vary from those of men. Studies have found that the likelihood of women to give, their motivation for giving as well as the size of their gifts, distinguishes them from their male counterparts. Female-headed households are more likely to give than male-headed households, and at most income levels, women donate nearly twice as much as men do. These facts hold true even though women still earn less and have less money in retirement than men.

While large numbers of women donors still give to organizations and causes that are personal to them and their families, the number of women’s charitable networks and foundations is on the rise. In his July 2012 Denver Post article, “Women Changing the Face of Philanthropy” Bruce DeBoskey stated, “Women are flexing their individual and collective muscles, searching for deeper, sustainable solutions to pressing problems, giving more thoughtfully and strategically, and achieving greater outcomes with philanthropy than ever before.”

For a first-hand perspective on women in philanthropy, The Woolbright Group spoke with four women donors, each of whom has a long and deep history of philanthropic giving to a wide variety of charitable causes and organizations. We talked about motivation for giving, guiding principles behind their charitable decisions, what role tradition plays in their decision making, and whether their giving is influenced by spouses or other family members, among other things.

Each of the women we spoke with come from very different backgrounds and perspectives, and yet their philosophies, motivations, and expectations align to such a degree that, though a very small sample group, they seem to represent and reflect women donors on a broad scale. They are independent thinkers, yet collaborative. Their children factor strongly into where their gifts go. Making a difference is of paramount importance. Women are more aware than ever of the power they have to influence social change. And women no longer need to rely on or defer to their spouses when it comes to charitable decisions.

We are providing the full text of our conversations, as well as full audio recordings of the interviews (the passion that comes through in the audio is very compelling and adds depth to the interviews that the print version can not match) in this issue of Bright Ideas.


Listen to the Interviews


The Woolbright Group’s services include counsel in strategic planning, board development, leadership and team building, capacity building, training in effective fundraising and solicitation skills, and more. For more information, please contact us.

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