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Women claim their place in philanthropy

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Julia Vail

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – When women donors decide not to make a second gift to a charitable organization, it is not because they are busy, forgetful or indifferent to the organization’s mission.

The number-one reason women decide to stop giving is that the salutation on the thank-you letter is wrong, said Beth Briggs, president of Creative Philanthropy, at a Lunch ‘n’ Learn workshop held by The Philanthropy Journal Dec. 4.

Having put their time and thought into which organizations should get their donations, women are disheartened to get letters that show a disregard for their efforts, Briggs said at the event, “Women’s Giving Power: Bigger, Better, Bolder.”

It is a phenomenon that Briggs, whose full name is Sarah Elizabeth Briggs, knows all too well.

“When I get a letter saying, ‘Dear Sarah, Thank you for the gift,’ I know they weren’t paying attention,” said Briggs, who goes by Beth.

And with nonprofits reeling in the wake of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it’s a mistake that fundraisers cannot afford to make.

Since nearly half of the top wealth-holders in the U.S. are women, attracting women to nonprofit missions should be high on fundraising agendas, Briggs said.

“Women are, by nature, philanthropists,” Briggs said. “They take care of children; they take care of the sick; they take care of the elderly; they take care of the earth.”

Not too long ago, women began to claim their rights to education, positions of power and places in the workforce. And the confidence that came from these achievements is crossing over into charitable giving, creating what Briggs called the “Eve-olution of Philanthropy.”

“Women don’t have to depend on somebody to do things for them,” she said. “It’s shifting our position in society.”

In the U.S. today, women own 10.4 million businesses and have a combined net worth of nearly $6.3 trillion, Briggs said. And since they live an average of seven years longer than men, family financial affairs often wind up in their hands.

To tap into this new demographic of philanthropists, Briggs said, fundraisers must understand how women differ from traditional male donors.

Whereas men tend to give one large gift, women like to spread their wealth to a variety of causes they care about, Briggs said.

Unlike men, who Briggs said often leverage charitable gifts for their advantage, women are less likely to expect personal benefits from their gifts.

Women also tend to devote their time and money to organizations that speak to their personal values, Briggs said.

That is why nonprofits should provide women with a mission that will “make their hearts flutter,” said Virginia Gentry Parker, business-development officer at Paragon Commercial Bank and committed donor and nonprofit board member. “You want to match people with the causes they’re excited about.”

And since women spend an average of 17 years caring for children and 18 years caring for an elderly relative, they are more likely to donate to causes that benefit children or the elderly, Briggs said.

Finally, women tend to get involved whole-heartedly in the organizations they support, Briggs said.

“If you want to get a woman involved as a donor in your organization,” she said, “get her involved as a volunteer.”

More likely to invest their hearts and minds in organizations, women want to roll up their sleeves and gain a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of the nonprofit, she said.

Michelle Serrano-Mills, co-founder of the Linsey and Michelle Mills Foundation and member of the Next Generation of African-American Philanthropists, said philanthropy was a part of her identity as a woman of Puerto Rican descent.

“We had a very low income, but we always had something to share,” she said. “Giving is just part of who you are.”

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