Planned Giving for Charitable Women

Planned Giving for Charitable Women

Article posted in Demographics on 4 June 2001| comments
audience: National Publication | last updated: 18 May 2011


Overlooked for hundreds of years for their planned gifts, it has only been in the past decade that women have gained attention in society as philanthropists in their own right. The competition for private support has now focused greater attention on targeting women as prospective planned giving and major gift donors. In this edition of Gift Planner's Digest," Dr. J. Michael Slinker provides a historical and contemporary perspective of women in philanthropy and discusses why women make charitable gifts. Information on marketing planned gifts to women highlights how women can make big differences in philanthropy due to their strong ties to charities.

by J. Michael Slinker, Ed.D.

Dr. J. Michael Slinker is a Senior Marketing and Communications Officer at Humboldt State University, California. He is a veteran practitioner in public relations and fund raising and has been recognized more than 30 times with national and regional awards including the John Grenzebach National Award for Outstanding Research in Philanthropy for Education from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the American Association for Fund-Raising Counsel Trust for Philanthropy. He is a Certified Specialist in Planned Giving and a Certified Fund-Raising Executive with more than 25 years experience in institutional advancement. Dr. Slinker can be reached at

This paper was submitted by Dr. Slinker as his practicum in completion of the Certified Specialist in Planned Giving (CSPG) certificate at the American Institute for Philanthropic Studies, California State University Long Beach.

Women have made charitable planned gifts in America since the 1600s. But it has only been in the past two decades that women have gained attention in society as philanthropists in their own right. The competition for private support has now focused greater attention on targeting women and ethnic minorities as prospective planned giving and major gift donors.

Historical Perspective

Abigail Lippincott was one of the earliest women to establish a planned gift for her heirs. A widow "of Shrewsberry In ye County of Monmouth and Province of East Jersey [New Jersey]," she outlined her bequest on March 16, 1697 (Lippincott, p. 15). The bequest of property and money is noteworthy from two standpoints: First, most women prior to that time and up until the 1900s did not have estates that could be passed to heirs. Typically, men passed their estates to their male children with the expectation the child or children would look after their mother. Second, the Abigail Lippincott estate was quite sizable for its time, even for most men.

From the 1690s to the 1760s, Philadelphia's Society of Friends (Quakers) dedicated their lives to the concepts of philanthropy and humaneness. Women seized the ideas to gain "authority as preservers and protectors of Quaker spiritual capital" (Thatcher, 1995, p. 2).

Quaker men named their wives as executors of their estates and together created a system in which assets were used for both testation and spiritual ideals. Margaret Cook's will of 1712 was similar to the one of her late husband in that it conventionally distributed gifts to heirs. The will was also innovative from the standpoint that the eldest son did not receive a double share since distribution fully included gifts to her daughters and granddaughters (Thatcher, 1995).

Thatcher points out that while male members of Philadelphia's Society of Friends provided material and economic estate plans, women focused on spiritual benevolence and the building of community. By the 1750s Philadelphia Quakers had adopted philanthropic principles in a mix of their religious and business activities.

The Philadelphia Ladies Depository, founded in 1832, gave rise to the factors that enhanced the means of poverty-laden women. The depository merged with the Managers of the Philadelphia Exchange for Woman's Work in 1894 to take the next major step in changing attitudes toward the rights of women to seek financial security as well volunteerism by leisure-class women (Waters, 1994, pp. 1-2).

Successful English and Scottish philanthropic organizations became models for Americans in the 1800s, emphasizing self-help and training for poor individuals. By the 1830s volunteerism was flourishing among American women and men with a focus on community and church work (Waters, p. 42-43).

The National Women's Suffrage Association and the American Women's Suffrage Association made important impacts on post-Civil War women's philanthropy and merged to become the League of Women Voters in 1920 (Simari, p.23).

Susan Yohn notes that philanthropy among women was "one in which the act of giving became a badge of citizenship" ( p. 2) and "empowered women at a time when they were otherwise disenfranchised" (p. 7). "Engaging in philanthropy, giving to good causes, became an appropriate form of investment activity for women. Indeed, it became a mark of a woman's respectability" (p. 3).

Prominent women who are contemporary philanthropists include:

  • Peg Yorkin -- Hollywood producer with a history of supporting feminist projects (Bernstein, 2000, p.1).

  • Melinda French Gates -- focuses on helping to improve people's lives through health and learning (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2001).

  • Lila Wallace -- founder of the Reader's Digest Fund that enhances the cultural life of communities and encourages people to make the arts and culture an active part of their everyday lives (Wallace - Reader's Digest Funds, 2001).

  • Sue Anschutz-Rodgers -- president and executive director of the Anschutz Family Foundation that focuses primarily on community organizations (Anschutz Family Foundation, 2001).

  • Doris Duke -- tobacco heiress who was the wealthiest woman in America when she died in 1993 created the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to improve the quality of people's lives through the arts, environment, medicine, and social welfare (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, 2001).

  • Catherine Muther -- retired from the computer network business at age 47 to make gifts that help women gain financial independence and excel in business and the professions (Three Guineas Fund, 2001).

  • Billie Jean King -- former tennis star who founded the Women's Sports Foundation to promote the lifelong participation of all girls and women in sports and fitness (Women's Sports Foundation, 2001).

Other distinguished women philanthropists (Castle, 2001) include:

  • Ann T. Bass -- $4 million to construct a new science center at Smith College in Massachusetts.

  • Albina du Boisrouvray -- $20 million for the AIDS Institute at the Harvard School of Public Health.

  • Harriet Bullitt and Patsy Bullitt Collins -- most of their $375 million wealth to fund environmental causes.

  • Helen Copley -- $2.5 million to the San Diego Symphony Orchestra.

  • Patricia Corbett -- $5 million to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for an educational endowment motivated by her concern over the declining audience for classical music.

  • Katherine Wasserman Davis -- $10 million for Russian studies at Harvard.

  • Enid Smith Goodrich -- $160 million bequest to three Indianapolis cultural institutions.

  • Joan Kroc -- hundreds of millions of dollars for educational and civic organizations.

  • Clare Booth Luce -- $70 million for science education for undergraduate women.

Why Women Make Charitable Gifts

Sondra C. Shaw and Martha A. Taylor write in Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women's Philanthropy (1995, p. 3):

"Whether they inherit, earn, or marry money, women are becoming a powerful financial force, and they are increasingly looking at money as a way to change society for the better."

Some women "have anxiety about being solicited for contributions to crackpot causes, fear of extortion and even of kidnapping" (Bates, 1989, p. 32). Philanthropic efforts of women continue to expand to the present-day. The current interest in women as donors can largely be traced to their acquisition and control of money, once the primary domain of men.

Christine Grumm, Executive Director of the Chicago Foundation for Women, notes that "men have understood for years their economic power to bring about change -- or maintain the status quo. Women have some real answers for problems facing our society, but there is not enough respect for their ideas. The reason is that we have not flexed our muscle enough in terms of money" (Hall, 1997, p. 22).

Kaplan and Hayes (1993, p. 5) maintain that contemporary women do not necessarily give because of their gender, psychology, or culture. Giving for women and men is correlated with a person's view of their financial ability to give, knowing and valuing a charitable organization, and if the individual was asked to make a gift.

Women who make charitable gifts value a participatory relationship with the organization to which they contribute, while men desire recognition and status. At the same time, there has long been a correlation between giving and volunteering among both women and men -- the more active the volunteer, the more charitable giving that occurs (Kaplan and Hayes, 1993, pp. 7-8).

When it comes to making bequests, significantly more women become charitable donors than men. Figures from the Internal Revenue Service (1992) indicate that 59 percent of the women filing estate tax returns in 1992 made a charitable bequest in comparison to 41 percent of the male decedents. According to Kaplan and Hayes (1993, p. 9), such giving is more likely a result of men leaving their estates to their wives. In turn, the wives make charitable bequests. Among individuals making bequests, women generally give the same percentage of their net worth despite the size of their estates.

More women than men earn undergraduate and graduate degrees (The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac, 1997, p. 23) and education is highly correlated with income.

Joseph R. Mixer (1993, p. 14) notes there are three categories of internal motivations and two categories of external influences that are factors in why people give:

Internal motivations include personal factors -- acceptance or self-esteem, achievement, cognitive interest, growth, guilt reduction or avoidance, meaning or purpose of life, spirituality, immortality, personal gain or benefit, and survival. Social factors for giving are status, affiliation, group endeavor, power, family, altruism, and interdependence.

External factors that influence people to give are personal, recognition and social rewards. Additional stimuli for giving include human needs, vision, personal request, private initiative, efficiency and effectiveness, and tax deductions.

Situations that determine why people give include peer pressure, personal involvement, planning and decision making, networks, family involvement, culture role identity, tradition, and disposable income.

To be effective as a philanthropist does not require wealth, but a desire to make a difference by utilizing the strength in numbers of others for a common good. The personal rewards women receive from their philanthropic deeds include altruism, "a sense of self-empowerment, and the reward of feeling part of a larger community -- an association that can improve the present and influence the future" (Shaw and Taylor, 1995, p. 85-86).

Shaw and Taylor (1995) also assert that there are six motivations women have for making a charitable gift:

  1. Change -- An ability to be an agent for immediate (not gradual) change and make a difference in society. Money is the tool for change and women desire to be active participants in the process.

  2. Create -- A desire to create new ways of doing things and a commitment to a long-term relationship with the charity.

  3. Connect -- Women desire a strong meaningful connection to the organizations they support with gifts. Such connections should be established prior to the individual making a gift and must be nourished throughout the relationship. Women will not support projects simply because they are about women.

  4. Commit -- The volunteer commitment of women is noteworthy. However, one woman philanthropist states: "We must find a new way of attracting women to charities by using their strong volunteer orientation yet focusing on major giving. The dollars speak the loudest. We must educate women about the process" (p. 93).

  5. Collaborate -- Working with others is an essential element in creating partnerships. Collaboration bypasses competition, eliminates duplication, and takes advantage of limited resources.

  6. Celebrate -- A celebratory atmosphere makes giving enjoyable and encourages philanthropy by others. Celebrations can be directed at individuals, small groups, or large gatherings. Celebrating philanthropic deeds and milestones makes everyone feel good about themselves and the organizations they support.

Appealing to women's emotions in soliciting gifts is only one half of the equation for success. Women desire details -- organizational facts, a clear philanthropic mission, assurance that money is going assist people the organization serves and not high overhead, and a thorough understanding of the programmatic process -- of the organizations they support (Shaw and Taylor, 1995, pp. 96-97). Providing such information creates an understanding that donated funds will be used for their intended purpose. Women also typically want to assist local organizations in order for them to see how their contributions are being used and if the funds truly make a difference.

Shaw and Taylor (1995, p. 98) assert that women invest in charitable organizations in a similar manner to their investments in financial markets and securities. They make four assumptions:

  1. Women will take longer than men to decide to give a gift.

  2. Women will thoroughly research an organization before making a gift commitment.

  3. Once committed to an organization, women will continue their support although immediate results are not produced.

  4. Women will more likely support a charitable organization that helps others or will make the world a better place.

Development professionals can enhance the prospect of charitable contributions from women by focusing on the following (Shaw and Taylor, 1995, p. 102):

  • Women should be asked to give at the same rate as men and should be credited with their own gifts.

  • Assist women donors in identifying their own values and enhance their philanthropic self-confidence before they inherit money. Wives and daughters must be included in gift solicitations from men.

  • Encourage women to play an active role in their financial investments and insist that their gifts go to causes that represent their own values.

  • Encourage women to take control of their financial matters and use their money to carry their voice.

  • Educate women on the needs of the charity and what they can accomplish with a major gift.

  • Make giving and getting contributions as rewarding as planning special events.

  • Encourage women to step forward and help determine the future of the charity by making gifts and influencing others to make a gift.

  • Communicate that philanthropy is a demonstration of donors who are a viable part of the community.

  • Assist women to operate within the charity and draw attention to women role models.

  • Encourage women to analyze their charitable giving with regard to past, present and future gifts; their values and interests; and what they want to accomplish with their contributions.

Focus groups for the University of California at Los Angeles' Women and Philanthropy Program resulted in the following findings (University of California at Los Angeles, 1992):

  • Women ultimately make charitable decisions based on intuitive or personal reasons once all the practical factors are considered.

  • Traditions of philanthropy in the family are influential, as are the values that parents taught. Charitable traditions are handed down from one generation to the next and it is important for families to teach philanthropic values.

  • The perceived personal impact a donor may have is a primary motivation for choosing a charity or area of interest for support. The need to make a difference is critical.

  • Volunteering time permits women to get to know the charity and its effectiveness, a prerequisite to establishing organizational trust and making a gift.

  • Being the beneficiary of a gift is a factor for some women to make a gift.

  • The level of giving is influenced by the amount needed for a specific purpose, perceived need, emotional involvement in the issue or organization, and available funds. The decision to give is strongly influenced by who makes the gift request.

  • Gift decision-making varies from family to family, while joint decision-making is common.

  • Balanced gender representation on charity boards is viewed by many as important. Active involvement of board members is valued over honorary names.

  • Administrative overhead is important and limits vary with regard to organizational size and circumstances.

  • Perks are important if they provide the recipient something the donor could not do for herself -- campus parking and exclusive invitation shows. Women desire informational lunches that are not expensive.

Factors frequently cited that do not lead to charitable gifts include a lack of interest or higher priorities by the individual, a lack of belief or commitment in the charitable cause or policies, charitable need has not been demonstrated, financial inability to give, too many mailings, and the wrong person asking for the gift (Mixer, 1993, p. 29-30).

When communicating with women donors, it is important to personalize the solicitation and build rapport by finding out their interests and their tie to the charity. Development professionals should be sure to maintain good eye contact and listen attentively. Women do not respond well to peer pressure in making gifts or being asked to match the giving level of another donor. They more enthusiastically respond to appeals where they are asked to join with others to help make a difference in the charity. Like all donors, it is important to acknowledge the gifts that women make and ensure that donors they know their contributions are being used in an accountable fashion (Shaw and Taylor, 1995, p. 120).

Marketing To Women

Financial planning is essential for women since about 90 percent will, "at some point in their lives, be solely responsible for their finances" (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association/College Retirement Equities Fund, 1997, p. 6).

Mark J. Welch (1996) views estate planning as a "lifelong process in which you evaluate your situation and plan for the future." It is a process whereby an individual considers a range of financial, legal, emotional, and logistical issues.

While married couples tend to save more money than single households, single women in particular face the prospect of not having adequate funds for their retirement years. Women compose 75 percent of the elderly with incomes below poverty levels, but 80 percent of widows in poverty were not poor before their husbands died (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association/College Retirement Equities Fund, 1997, p. 8).

Women are encouraged to educate themselves financially, taking advantage of seminars on investing, estate planning, and basic financial planning. Marlys Harris (Money Online, 1997) advocates reviewing options with a financial planner to ensure individuals save enough during their careers, taking advantage of employer and individual savings plans, and utilize multiple investments. Harris advises women to become a partner in making financial decisions with their spouse.

The International Association for Financial Planning (1997) urges individuals to:

  • Clarify their current situation by gathering all relevant financial and personal information.

  • Identify financial and personal goals in order to define where they want to be and what they want to do.

  • Identify barriers that block the attainment of goals.

  • Develop a financial plan designed to meet needs and goals.

  • Implement a comprehensive financial plan.

  • Review the financial plan periodically and revise the plan as personal situations and economic conditions change.

In a personal interview, philanthropist and national chair of the development campaign for Drake University, Maddie Glazer (1992) points out that:

"Since women have become empowered, especially in the last decade, and taken their place in the leadership of our institutions and organizations, the groups they serve have changed the way they view and interact with women. Old fundraising methods are no longer successful with women who want to be involved, informed, and remained connected to a project."

Corporate America has begun communicating with women by targeting "female values and attitudes" in an effort to be more inclusive (Shaw, 1993, p. 24). Corporations have made efforts to "portray the many roles and responsibilities of women" and "acknowledge the importance of knowing how women see themselves" (Shaw, 1993, p.25).

In Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women's Philanthropy (Shaw and Taylor, 1995, p. 135), the authors urge development professionals to monitor contemporary communication methods used by commercial advertisers to incorporate women's values into programs. Material must accurately present a variety of realistic images of women.

Kaye Ferguson-Patton (1993, p. 61) believes women are the target group of the 1990s and beyond, and the "challenge is how to reach them most effectively." By regularly studying the women's audience, development professionals learn who their prospects really are, the best methods of communicating with them, and what messages will encourage continual giving (p. 63).

The process of converting women into committed major or planned gift donors involves getting the donor to see that she shares experiences and values with the development officer. It also involves the donor viewing the development officer as a person with whom she can sympathize (Cohen, 1996, p. 1).

Rosalie Simari, in her study Philanthropy and Higher Education: Women as Donors, notes that important factors influencing alumnae support include a desire to help the next generation of students, loyalty to the institution, a feeling that they wanted to repay the institution for their education, university mail received, and a sense of obligation (p. 69).

Simari also discovered that women's priorities for charitable support to colleges included scholarships, the library, campus general fund, construction of new buildings and renovation, women's athletics, and the institutional endowment (p. 94).

A planned gift will probably be the most significant gift a donor will ever make to a charitable organization. It is necessary to learn as much about the prospective donor and her viewpoints as possible. Topics to engage women in planned giving philanthropy include the following (Shaw, 1995, pp. 147-148):

  • Initially inquire about the woman's early life -- where she grew up, where she went to school, who were major influences in her life. Ask about her parents and their philanthropic involvement.

  • Ask about her giving interests -- how she became involved, in what capacity she commits her time (as a volunteer or fundraiser), what is special about the charity that led her to support it.

  • Inquire about what values she has toward philanthropy, the rewards she receives from charitable giving, her philanthropic goals this year and over her lifetime, and what she hopes to accomplish with her money during her lifetime.

  • Ask what charities she supports and why. Find out what things she will not contribute to.

  • Explore if there are other individuals involved in her philanthropic decision making -- financial advisers, family members -- and the extent of their involvement and influence.

  • Find out how and by whom she prefers to be approached about a gift. Are there approaches she dislikes? Why?

  • Ask the prospect to provide reasons why women choose not to make charitable gifts or not to give more. Suggest ways in which these can be addressed.

  • Inquire about the type of recognition she prefers and if she would be willing to be a role model by announcing her gift openly. Does she prefer to be anonymous?

  • Ask what staff can do to be of more assistance to her.

In The Seven Faces of Philanthropy, Prince and File (1994, p.175) point out that increased participation by an individual with a charitable organization leads to increased involvement, a greater willingness to recommend the charity to others, and more frequent and/or larger gifts.

To assist women in being more comfortable about charitable giving, development professionals should communicate that most charitable organizations adhere to a donor bill of rights like the one adopted by institutional members of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (2001) below:

  • "Philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good. It is a tradition of giving and sharing that is primary to the quality of life. To assure that philanthropy merits the respect and trust of the general public, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in not-for-profit organizations and causes they are asked to support, we declare that all donors have these rights:

  • To be informed of the organization's mission, of the way the organization intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.

  • To be informed of the identity of those serving on the organization's governing board, and to expect the board to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.

  • To have access to the organization's most recent financial statements.

  • To be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.

  • To receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition.

  • To be assured that information about their donations is handled with respect and with confidentiality to the extent provided by law.

  • To expect that all relationships with individuals representing organizations of interest to the donor will be professional in nature.

  • To be informed whether those seeking donations are volunteers, employees of the organization or hired solicitors.

  • To have the opportunity for their names to be deleted from mailing lists that an organization may intend to share.

  • To feel free to ask questions when making a donation and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers."


American women have clearly demonstrated their interest in philanthropy since the 1600s when they focused on spiritual compassion and enhancing society. Those values continue to flourish as more women engage in philanthropic activities as a volunteers, donors, and fund raisers. Such charitable feelings should be encouraged in order to maximize interest and commitment.

Women have come to appreciate that their money is a powerful tool to make the world a better place and that charitable giving is a viable method to leverage that tool. Concomitantly, women desire to play an active role in the charities to which they contribute. From that dual relationship, they feel a part of the community as a whole, are empowered to improve the present and the future, and enjoy a personal sense of charitable self-esteem.

Planned giving options must be communicated in ways that manifest the values of women philanthropists and avoid the pitfalls of some gift solicitation techniques used with men. As such, charitable organizations must directly include women in the cultivation and solicitation process in order to demonstrate they truly want women to make gifts. Women want clear organizational facts regarding a charity's mission and want to see evidence that the gifts they make go for the purpose intended and are making a difference.

It is important to understand that women base their philanthropic interests on a lifetime of acquired values they will actively strive to transcend into positive change. Development professionals must get to know what motivates their women prospects and link the charity's values with those of the donor in a personal manner. It is essential to demonstrate to women that they can make a difference through a direct participatory role with the charity and that a long-term commitment is welcome.

Charitable organizations must encourage women to educate themselves financially, play an active role in their finances, and support causes that represent their own worthwhile principles. Prospective women donors should be asked to give at the same rate as men and then credited with their own gifts.

Women must be persuaded to openly discuss their philanthropy with other women. Such discussions promote charitable giving at all levels and leads to empowered participation by women donors.

Women can make a big difference in philanthropy since they develop a strong tie to the charity they support. In most cases, charities have not utilized women to their potential in developing major or planned gifts. Women want to be perceived as individuals whose charity extends beyond their money. If they know how much they mean to the charity and what a difference their contact makes, then that ownership relation grows. It is contagious -- more women catch on and participate.

Overall, women develop a strong bond to the organizations they support and like to feel they can derive nourishment from the charities they have helped sustain. Planned gifts from women create a lasting tie to the charity.


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