• Tech

The Charity Divide: Study Shows Women More Generous Givers than Men

4 minute read
Tim Newcomb

Next time you’re out raising money for your favorite charity, you would do best to first hit up your female friends — or perhaps the wives of your male ones. Women, it appears, are much better givers.

According to a recent study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the University of Indiana, women are as much as 40% more likely to donate than men. What’s more, women at nearly every income level are better givers. Not only do they give more often; they also tend to donate more. For example, the study found that a female-headed household with a family income of at least $103,000 is likely to give to charities, on average, nearly $1,910, or $1,000 more a year than a similar household in which a man controls the checkbook.

“It is not just the older white males [giving],” says Dr. Debra Mesch, the director of the institute. “We are seeing women really growing in terms of philanthropy.”

The study, titled “Women Give 2010,” is, according to Mesch, the first to look at philanthropy by gender. Mesch studied 2,532 single-headed households of comparable income and their giving habits. With women steadily increasing their earning power, what she found is good news for the world of charity. “This is the perfect storm for philanthropy, and we are on the verge of a huge global movement as women become more powerful in the philanthropic movement,” says Mesch.

(See how investing in girls can help fight poverty.)

The gender giving gap varied by type of charity. The one category in which women were less likely than men to give to a charity was arts and culture. For all other causes that Mesch looked at, women were more likely donors. Women were 55% more likely donors to international causes than men, 42% more likely to religious organizations, and 32% more likely to youth and family groups. The study also found that people, both males and females, who had never been married were significantly less generous than people who were divorced or widowed. In fact, the most generous group in the study was male widowers, 71% of whom gave to charities. Widowed females (67%) and divorced or separated females (56%) were the next two most generous groups.

The study shows another big difference: women are more drawn than men to causes and organizations they or family members closely relate to. Professional fundraiser Heather Gee realized that finding her interests gave her focus. “Instead of just writing a check to this charity or that charity, I started to really explore what I was passionate about and what was most important to me,” she says. That means organizations have to take the time to foster relationships, Mesch says. “It is easier to work with men who get out their checkbooks and put names on buildings. It is different to work with women.”

(See why women are attracted to men who play hard to get.)

Mark Hanlon, senior vice president of the Colorado-based nonprofit Compassion International, says the Indiana study rings true to him. For his group, 60% of its donors are women. As a Christian organization aiming to pull children out of poverty globally, Compassion International falls right in line with what the report says is a sweet spot for female givers. “Ultimately, our cause and what we do is about children and poverty,” Hanlon says. “Very naturally, women gravitate toward those two issues. They understand it acutely, and there is a natural leaning for Compassion to be attractive to them.”

Mesch says not enough nonprofits have discovered the strength of targeting female givers and that there is room for research. “Now we know the difference of behavior,” she says. “We need to go deeper into why this is happening.”

See TIME’s Pictures of the Week.

See the world’s most influential people in the 2010 TIME 100.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com