Fundraisers Should Not Piss Off Women

Women outlive men. Unmarried women give more generously than unmarried men. These two facts have big implications for nonprofit fundraisers.

Before looking at the implications, I should substantiate the facts. I think it’s well known that women live longer than men, but the gap is considerably narrower than it was a hundred years ago. This charming 1912 New York Times article put the gap at 20 years. puts it between 3 and 4 years today.

Earlier this month, The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported unmarried women, irrespective of why they’re unmarried, give more to charity than similarly situated men.

Interesting to me, the article quotes the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute to say, “The conventional wisdom is that women do not give a lot of money.” I must be uninformed, because I’ve never heard that and don’t believe it’s true. The director continues, saying the conventional wisdom is wrong. Sometimes it pays to be uninformed. I save myself a lot of back-and-forth.

The implication for fundraisers: don’t piss off women. If that colloquialism offends your sensibilities, and you prefer my admonition more genteelly, don’t evoke the ire of women. Especially if you do planned gift fundraising.

Where the principal relationship to your charity is with the male, and there’s a female he’s close to, involve her. Send invitations to the couple, if appropriate. Do the same with gift acknowledgements. You are snubbing someone important when the gift is from a married, or partnered, couple and you address your thank-you letter to the man. You’ll probably never hear the objection. It has been quietly noted by the one who will likely live longer.

Angry Young Woman

At events, do you engage the wife or female significant other? Are you introducing her to your CEO, or asking for a moment of her man’s time while you pull him away?

Making (off color) inside jokes that marginalize women is a sure way to shoot your long-term fundraising in the foot. (You’ll hurt yourself in other ways, too, but I’m sticking to fundraising.)

Wives outliving their husbands, on average, means significant wealth will transfer to wives from their husbands’ estates. If you’re in Planned Giving, you’d like the best shot at having the wife remember you in her estate plan. So be good to her while her husband is living.

Where the husband is the primary donor to a nonprofit, I’ve always thought it a mistake to presume, upon his death, the widow has no interest in continuing the relationship. She may very well have her own charitable interests that don’t coincide with her husband’s, but nothing is lost in inquiring by polite letter–after many months have passed since the death–whether she would like to be kept on the mailing list. If you get no response, or a negative one, you know where you stand.

You have the best chance of maintaining a relationship with a woman–including a widow–if you treat her courteously at all times, according her the same respect, professionalism and friendship you show a man, whether she’s attached to one or not.

4 thoughts on “Fundraisers Should Not Piss Off Women

  1. That pains me on a few levels, Lori. Nearly every Planned Giving seminar I deliver includes an admonition to pay attention to women’s role in philanthropy. They outlive men, and now we know they give more generously. As Planned Giving counsel to nonprofits, I hate to hear of inquiries ignored. That is terrible, awful, negligent practice. On a personal level, I hate to hear of people being ignored. I’m sickened by this.

    Have other women suffered this? Has your stated interest in making a planned gift (or other gift) been ignored by nonprofits?

  2. I deliver fundraising trainings pretty often. My audience is development staff, board members, CEO’s, volunteer coordinators, communication staff and more. Lately I have been sharing a story of how I and a few female friends have let it be known to some of the nonprofit organizations we support financially that we would like to explore planned giving options that include their charity. None of the three organizations I mentioned this to have followed up with me…my women friends have had similar experiences. And each time I share the story at a fundraising training I collect another example of a women who has dropped hints, left messages, sent emails or boldly said something about estate planning & planned giving and they’ve been ignored or forgotten. I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t take us seriously, or they think we don’t have enough money to give, or what.

    The age group I’m referring to is mid-40’s to mid-60’s. We have disposable income now but will have more to share later. Some of us don’t have children to leave our assets to and other’s of us simply want to leave a legacy gift in addition to anything we’ll do for our families.

    So my advice, building on your great suggestion to not piss of women…is to LISTEN. And then act on our requests for deeper involvement.

  3. I agree with the theme of the article though I would suggest, and I know the author won’t disagree, that development professionals should not piss off ANYONE. Having said that, I would like to underscore the fundamental point made by Tony Martignetti by offering up some additional factoids from my new book “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing”:

    1. Women make 84% of all philanthropic decisions, according to Margaret May Damen, co-author of “Women, Wealth and Giving” and President and Founder of The Institute for Women and Wealth.

    2. Among the Boom Generation and younger, increasing numbers of women are professionals or business owners who earn and invest a significant amount of the family’s net worth. In other words, women are gaining in economic power.

    3. Women are also more willing to use sophisticated gift planning instruments. For example, high-income women are more likely than their male counterparts to use innovative giving vehicles such as donor-advised funds and charitable remainder trusts, according to a study by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund. In 2008, 7% of them made charitable gifts using securities, versus 3% of high-income men. 16% of them have or use a donor-advised fund, charitable remainder trust, or private foundation, versus 10% of high income men.

    4. While I certainly agree that the life expectancy gap between men and women is shrinking, I’ll just nit-pick by pointing out that researchers at Harvard Medical found the gap to be 4.5 years at this point.

    While it was always good manners to respect all donors/prospects and their spouses, it is increasingly clear that it makes good financial sense as well.

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