Female Donors to Women's and Girls' Causes Embrace Risk, Study Finds

Female Donors to Women's and Girls' Causes Embrace Risk, Study Finds

High-net-worth women who have donated at least $1 million to causes that benefit women and girls are strategic and willing to take risks in their philanthropic efforts, a report from the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy finds.

Based on in-depth interviews with twenty-three women who have given at least $1 million in support of women's and girls' causes, the report, Giving By and For Women: Understanding High-Net-Worth Donors' Support for Women and Girls (36 pages, PDF), found that the women interviewed educated themselves and conducted significant research before giving, made their funding decisions with an eye to driving systemic change, and were open to taking risks. For many of the women, the inspiration and motivation for supporting women's and girls' causes included direct and indirect experiences of workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, issues related to reproductive health and access to abortion, past experience with barriers to education and leadership, and wanting to be part of the solution to gender inequality. The report also found that they favored projects and organizations working to effect systemic change over those that provided direct service; saw their philanthropic investments as catalysts for social change; and considered themselves to be strategic in their philanthropy.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report found that many of the women interviewed either self-identified as risk-takers or described giving behaviors that could be categorized as risky — for example, funding emerging organizations and new programs rather than proven solutions, and funding organizations and businesses in countries plagued by corruption. The second in a series exploring how and why individuals support women's and girls' causes, the report notes that earlier studies have shown that tolerance for risk is unusual among high-net-worth donors, with only 14.7 percent of wealthy female donors willing to tolerate above-average or substantial levels of risk in their giving, compared with 24.4 percent of wealthy male donors. That kind of risk aversion may be waning, however: according to a 2016 study, 57.5 percent of wealthy households indicated that they took the same amount of financial risk with their personal assets and investments as with their philanthropic assets and investments.

"Women can be powerful agents of change with their philanthropy, and their values and goals are often shaped by the societal experiences of being female," said lead researcher Elizabeth Dale, an assistant professor at Seattle University. "Further, we find that contrary to conventional wisdom that says women are more risk-averse than men when considering their finances, these wealthy women are willing to experiment and to take considerable financial risks with their philanthropy in order to advance meaningful change."

"Wealthy Female Donors Who Support Women and Girls Embrace Risk-Taking in Their Philanthropy, Study Finds." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Press Release 01/30/2018.