For the first time, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) has investigated gender differences in giving across generations in their seventh annual report*, Women Give 2016. The results are extraordinarily clear: “Women Give 2016 finds that men’s and women’s donor behavior has changed over the past four decades, and that women now have greater influence over charitable decision-making.”

Andrea Pactor, Associate Director at WPI, shares the bottom line of this report:

This study affirms an increasing body of research showing that donors are a varied and diverse group.  The one-size-fits-all model of fundraising is obsolete.  Men and women have different motivations for giving and different patterns of giving.  Decision-making within households is more nuanced and complex.  Nonprofit organizations, large and small, have to figure out how to navigate this more complex terrain. “

So what to do? Recently a nonprofit colleague asked me “I know that we need to be paying more attention to women – I don’t need more facts. Just tell me HOW to do it.” I recognize that many fundraisers at mission-driven organizations are understaffed, have overflowing plates, and work long hours. While there is no one magic bullet to suddenly accelerate your women stakeholders’ commitment and financial support, there are many specific, consistent actions you can do. My prescription?

It’s Time to Adapt Current Fundraising Behaviors

In the coming weeks, I will offer many specific actions you can take to adapt.

Today, let’s talk about discernment. How do you discern if your fundraising practices are matching the demographic shifts that are occurring, and specifically with women?

Discernment starts by looking internally – what internal narratives may be affecting your actions?

Here Are Three Action Steps You Can Take To Get Started

  1. Discuss Your Current Fundraising Practices With Your Team and Peers: We can’t change what we are not aware of. The roots of U.S. philanthropy are white male; that has worked commendably well. And now demographics are changing, yet institutions still tacitly favor male preferences and patterns in fundraising techniques.Start getting curious about the possibility that current fundraising practices, behaviors and processes may not be working for women. Discuss this in a staff meeting, review the gender data on your donors, ask peers at other organizations who are doing well working with women.An article in the April 28, 2014 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported results of a Harris Poll that found 40% nonprofits surveyed with assets greater than $25 million said their organizations were not attending to women as donors.
  2. Work With Data to Break Down Myths: We can’t change when our internal stories are louder than reality. Consider that you or others on your team may hold myths that working with women takes longer, and that the financial gifts won’t be as significant. Read the research, commit to a study group with your colleagues on what is happening outside your walls. Working with data can help break down internal assessments and myths. As you learn, you will find that working with women doesn’t take longer, it just takes different.
  3. Listen to Stories From Your Women Stakeholders: We can’t change until we really hear “other” and walk in their shoes.Listen to their high point experiences with philanthropy – what is their passion and why? What galvanizes them to give, who influenced them and how? What role did they play in their own philanthropy? Who else did they connect with to make decisions? You may hear women talk about high impact over high profile – many women are less interested in sitting on boards and more interested in engaged action for impact. You may hear that they want to work with others as they give of themselves and their money, or that they want to include their family in the giving process. Don’t rush into action yet to “fix”– just listen and note differences between women’s and men’s philanthropic stories.

With awareness comes new actions and practices. Future posts will describe some successful adaptations others have made.

I’d love to hear your experiences with working with women prospects and donors. What has worked and what has not? Leave a comment below or send me an email.

* All seven reports are available here: The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy: Women Give

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