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Philanthropy from Venus: Women and Charitable Giving


Women give charity differently than men.

They are a little more generous across the board and a little less egocentric in their giving. More often they believe that charity is a moral obligation. And they tend to be more inclined toward education, religion and health-related causes.

Saying so isn’t a case of sexism or stereotyping, it’s just statistics, says Debra Mesch, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

“Women tend to want to spread the wealth a little more, and a lot of that has to do with how men and women are socialized in terms of their upbringing,” Mesch told JTA on Monday. “In this culture especially they are the nurturers and are charged with raising the family. Their altruism is more developed.”

Statistics show that single women are twice as likely to give charity than single men, she said.

That’s why, in part, as the National Women’s Philanthropy division of the United Jewish Communities preps for its annual Lion of Judah conference, organizers and philanthropy experts are saying that women’s philanthropy is more important than ever.

The annual conference, scheduled for Nov. 9-16 in Tel Aviv, is the preamble to the UJC’s General Assembly in Jerusalem immediately afterward.

The Lion of Judah, so named because of the solid gold lion-shaped pins that women are awarded because of their giving – and bejeweled in relation to the size of the gifts – is expected to draw some 1,100 women who each give more than $5,000 annually to their local federations.

Over the past decade, the federation system has seen its general annual campaigns slump, but women’s giving has grown rapidly, according to the managing director of the National Women’s Philanthropy division, Beth Mann.

The Jewish federation system in 1946 became one of the first charities to launch a separate campaign to solicit gifts from women. In its first year, giving by women to that campaign accounted for $10 million – or 10 percent – of the total taken in by the federations.

That dollar total has climbed steadily – to $61 million in 1973 in the aftermath of Israel’s Yom Kippur War, and to $138 million in 1995. As the general campaigns fell flat, in 2006 the women’s campaigns took in $192 million, or 22 percent of all of the money that federations raised.

Thirty-four percent of donors to the federation system are women, and that doesn’t count the women who give gifts from couples and families. Mann estimates that some 50 percent of all the dollars federations take in come from women.

That number stands to increase in coming years.

By 2010, experts estimate that women will control some 60 percent of America’s wealth – a figure that could increase as some $41 trillion is passed on from the oldest generations to younger generations over the next 50 years. That’s because with women living on average seven years longer than men, many husbands will end up leaving their estates to their wives.

Some observers see women’s philanthropy as a new well that could help bridge the philanthropic gap between today’s economic crisis and recovery.

“Women’s philanthropy has been an untapped resource because I don’t think people have been paying attention to women’s giving and women’s power,” said Indiana University’s Mesch.

The Lion of Judah conference is focused on thanking women for their giving and inspiring them to give more. That same week, Indiana University will run its own symposium on women’s giving to help fund-raisers focus on how to tap into the women’s market – a problem for a fund-raising world that still more often focuses on courting men.

“I hear from development officers at Indiana that they talk to the man,” Mesch said. “If there is a couple sitting with them, they assume it is the man writing the check, so the discussion always goes to the man. The thank-you note goes to the man.

“But you need to do the little things and realize that it is the women who open the tap. I think it is a huge faucet.”

Other philanthropies are catching on. The United Way started its National Leadership Women’s Council in 2003 to help guide local United Way branches as they started separate women’s campaigns. Already the charity has seen gains.

The system as a whole saw 2.6 percent growth in donations last year, but local branches that started women’s campaigns saw on average a 3.6 percent growth, according to the United Way’s director of strategic marketing for the women’s council, Linda Paulson.

To put into perspective how effective the federation system has been at raising money from women, consider this: The United Way raised $4.2 billion systemwide in 2007 and took in $102 million from women.

In the same year, the federation system raised $908.1 million through its general campaigns, $193 million from women.

And while rumors persist that the federation’s umbrella organization, the UJC, has had trouble with sagging attendance numbers for this year’s General Assembly, the Lion of Judah conference is bringing about 400 more attendees than organizers anticipated.

“In the future,” Mann said jokingly, “there will be a general campaign and a separate men’s campaign.”

For those women who are the givers, the mission is less about bridging the gap than it is about fulfilling a personal mission.

“The opportunity to give your own gift means that you can express yourself philanthropically in a different way,” said Cheryl Fishbein, a board member of a litany of charities, including the UJC and the UJA-Federation of New York.

Before she became involved in the women’s campaign 15 years ago, Fishbein’s giving was done with her husband or her family.

“We really believe in a lot of the same things, but if it is my own gift, I can have a say in where it is going to go and what it will fund,” said Fishbein, who is a Lion of Judah. “And as I have become more knowledgeable on philanthropy, it gave me an opportunity to feel that the things I am most passionate about, I can fund.”

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