Who Gives to Women's and Girls' Causes?

Two women smiling in an office setting.

In May, 2016, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute released the first of its kind study diving into who gives to women's and girls' causes, and why donors give. The report, Giving to Women and Girls: Who Gives, and Why?, sheds light on who supports causes specific to women and girls, and how understanding these motivations can be the first step in finding different ways to engage both men and women in fundraising for these causes.

“One size does not fit all for fundraising,” said Debra Mesch, Ph.D., professor and director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and Eileen Lamb O’Gara chair in Women’s Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Prior to this new study, researchers and organizations did not know specifically who supported causes for women and girls.

Mesch said, “Men and women give differently. They have different motivations and patterns of giving, and one is not better than the other, just different.”

Who gives to causes for women and girls?

The national study used both surveys and focus groups to answer the question of “who gives?” Of the key findings, Mesch reported that women are more likely to give to causes supporting women and girls, and are more likely to give more money. The amount women contribute grows as their age and income levels increase.

Cynthia Nimmo, president of the Women’s Funding Network, revealed, “It’s important to know what’s really going on with money for funding, where it’s going, and why. There’s a greater awareness now of how women's and girls' causes are related to almost any issue, like poverty, education, or health.”

The Women’s Funding Network member organizations also create new, more inclusive conversations about issues that impact women and girls. The conversation around how women and men contribute to philanthropy differently also encourages discussions around gender equity, raising awareness of the interconnectedness of this issue with so many other issues.

[Learn more about matching charities to donors.]

Why do they give?

In fact, Mesch reported, one significant motivation for giving to women's and girls' causes was the belief that women’s equity is important for social progress. “We saw in the study that there was a belief that giving to women and girls then raises the boat for all people.”

“There is a deep desire, by donors, to want to be a part of making change. This might look like volunteering or writing a check” said Nimmo. Women especially want to be partners with organizations. This sense of community and relationship-building is essential to engaging women donors.

According to the report, trust and connection with an organization were a motivation for women to donate. “Women want to be involved in an organization and have confidence that their money is going to be used wisely and make an impact,” Mesch said.

When trust is built through transparency, accountability, and expertise, women may become loyal donors for the long term. Nimmo commented, “from members, we hear that they are building strong, trusting relationships with their donors who believe in their expertise and the way they function. People want to see what happens with their donation, and see that there’s momentum in making changes.”

Another key motivator for women to donate is personal experience. Women are interested in giving to women's and girls' causes because of their experiences, whether it was experiencing discrimination in the workplace, or being a mother and wanting to make the world better for their children. Nimmo added, “we know from our network that some of the best solutions come from talking with those women who have experienced challenges firsthand. Any foundation or nonprofit should be aware of personal experience as a motivator for donating.”

[Read more about how to show donors your impact.]

What now?

The report, and Mesch, mentioned some barriers to increasing giving to women's and girls' causes. The first comes from a general lack of awareness and knowledge. Another barrier is addressing the misconception that a focus on women's and girls' causes and fundraising is exclusionary of men and boys. As participants in the report reveal, people believe that when life is better for a woman, say by reducing violence, this benefits them, their family, men, and boys too.

Future studies will examine more specific types of interventions and ways nonprofits and foundations can communicate to both men and women to attract more funding, draw more attention to women's and girls’ causes, and keep building on this new information, said Mesch.

Nimmo added, “we are making an intentional effort to include more voices at the table, both in terms of fundraising and also in terms of impacting women's and girls’ causes.”

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