Men v. Women: Who are the Best Planned Giving Prospects?

Who are the most important planned giving prospects: Men or Women?

Over the years, I’ve talked with planned giving professionals who believe men are the best prospects because they are usually the primary money earners in most families and control family wealth. I’ve talked to others who have argued that women are the best prospects because they tend to outlive their husbands and, therefore, it is their will that will ultimately control most or all of a family’s assets.

So, who’s right?

I explore this issue in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Planned Giving Tomorrow, published by PlannedGiving.Com.

Photo by Steven Diaz (via Kaferico at Flickr)

Generally speaking, men and women are just as likely to make a bequest commitment, according to Russell N. James, III, PhD of Texas Tech. However, women are more likely to make a bequest commitment to environmental, health, human service, and religious organizations, according to Giving USA. Men are more likely to leave a bequest to education or public/society benefit organizations. Both women and men are equally likely to leave a bequest to arts and international affairs groups.

According to researchers at Harvard Med, women outlive men by about 4.5 years on average, though the gap is shrinking. That means surviving wives’ wills very often control most, if not all, of how a family’s wealth will be distributed

According to Margaret May Damen, President and Founder of The Institute for Women and Wealth, women make 84 percent of all philanthropic decisions. Among the Boom generation and those younger, women are often earning strong salaries and controlling or influencing how family wealth is invested.

In my book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, for which I won the AFP-Skystone Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy, I share the following information from a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund study:

  • High-income women (those with an annual household income of $150,000 or more) demonstrate a high-level of sophistication in their giving by seeking expert advice.
  • High-income women are more likely to use innovative giving vehicles such as donor-advised funds and charitable remainder trusts. 16 percent of high-income women have or use a donor-advised fund, charitable remainder trust, or private foundation, versus 10 percent of high income men.
  • In 2008, 7 percent of high-income women made charitable gifts using securities, versus 3 percent of high-income men.

While both men and women make solid planned giving prospects, the simple fact is that nonprofit organizations ignore female prospects, or the wives of their male prospects, at their own peril. Over time, as women continue to earn more money and own more businesses, their importance as planned giving prospects will only become greater.

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say?

12 Responses to “Men v. Women: Who are the Best Planned Giving Prospects?”

  1. Another great article Michael.

    To focus on only the men in terms planned giving is not only pure folly but down right disrespectful, and I’ve shouted about this until I’m blue in the face.

    By the way, if memory serves, there was a study done about 10 – 12 years ago that indicated that women control roughly 70% of the wealth in the world. I wonder what that number is like today?

    For me, the real question has always been how does one engage the wife or significant other when the meeting begins, and she says, “Well, I’ll go and leave you two alone…”?

    I’ve even been faced with the situation on two occasions where the husband actually said to me in private, “Make sure you do not mention any thing about our discussion to my wife…”

    And not to belabor the issue with “war stories”; I clearly remember the time when after engaging on a number of occasions with the spouse, who, already was suspicious of my institutions motives, a certain president of a certain college stopped by to say hello to the husband and wife at a basketball game. The husband, the alumnus, excused himself briefly to say hello to an old friend. Following a bit of small talk, the wife raised what I thought was a very intelligent question regarding the management at the institution, to which the (my) president smiled and said “Ah, for the days when men made all the important decisions about money”, shook the lady’s hand, said good-bye and walked away.

    Well, the spouse in question became furious, no further discussions or meetings regarding planned giving were ever held, and I wanted to kill myself.

    Enough said, but once again, a great article Michael.

    Michael McGarry

    • Michael, thank you for sharing your thoughts and a fantastic “war story.” I keep threatening to write a book of development horror stories. The story of your former college president would make an excellent addition to such a volume. I shouldn’t be, but I’m always amazed when I hear stories about nonprofit professionals who ignore or actually insult women. I think the old adage applies very well to the college president you referenced: “It may be that your sole purpose in life is simply to serve as a warning to others.”

      Finally, I thank you for your kind words about my article.

    • Michael M. – great set of comments!

      Dealing with the spouse who excuses herself: Suggest at the time you are booking the meeting that you and the donor choose a time when both partners are available and mention right from there that it is important that the wife be present in the room for your conversation.

      War Story – Oh My Goodness! Can’t believe that actually happened! I hope that couple did in fact decide to walk away as donors from that institution – talk about the antithesis of everything donor engagement and accountability should be about!

      My own husband probably has some stories to tell when it comes to having a wife that makes the bulk of the philanthropic decisions in the household… I manage the budget and the taxes at the end of the year for the family and I usually end up deciding what we’re going to support!

      Thanks for a great blog post, Michael R.!


  2. In this age of the SHECONOMY, Albert Einstein has the right idea, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” And so it is with “Who are the Best Planned Giving Prospects?” Michael, in his thoughtful and pragmatic style has not only raised the question but given the reader ample and accurate statistics reinforcing the case that women are no longer a niche market for planned giving but ARE the market. However, I would like to add for thoughtful consideration that perhaps “everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” If one truly removes the gender lens, perceived or quantified, from planned giivng there may be an additional factor that validates women’s influence in directing both intangible and tangible wealth: values. Values, that “cannot necessarily be counted” but are the X -factor in driving women to be responsible decision makers of significant legacy gifts. Values that recognize the abundance in our world; values that transform the use and meaning of power from zero-sum to win-win. Women are co-creating with men, the world thay want to live in and leave for future generations. Thank you, Michael, for your insight and meaningful dialogue, and for reminding us as advisors to ask the question of every man and woman, “Where do you want to have an impact?”

    Margaret May Damen, CAP, CFP, CLU.
    Founder :The Institute for Women and Wealth
    co-author: Women,Wealth and Giving:The Virtuous Legacy of the Boom Generation

  3. Good article. I’d also be interested in knowing the statistics on how many women and women-run projects and organizations receive support from donors as opposed to men. Is there a perceived higher value in giving to men, even if women are making the decisions about where and who to support?

    • Alice, you’ve asked a very interesting question. However, I don’t know of any research that answers your question. Perhaps someone else can point us in the right direction. On the other hand, I do know that, in the political world, men tend to support male candidates and women tend to support male candidates. In the political world, there is a definite anti-woman bias among both men and women in terms of both dollars and votes. So, I’d definitely be interested to learn if the same bias exists among nonprofit organizations.

  4. Thank you for a thought-provoking article. I’d wager the bet that the planned giving gender in the home is perhaps tied to the one with the more philanthropic attitude…a personality trait one might be born with….ah, but then we’d have to debate nature vs. nurture;-)

    • Denise, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I suspect you’re correct and that the person who is most likely to make a planned gift is the one who is most philanthropic. I also suspect, when it comes to gender, that it is also an issue of who lives the longest; the surviving spouse is the one most likely to make a charitable bequest gift. By the way, in case you haven’t yet read it, my current post is about a new scientific study that used brain scans to explore bequest giving behavior. You can find “Breaking News: Brain Scan Study Gives Fresh Insight into Charitable Giving Behavior” at


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