How to Stop Offending Your Women Donors

Just days ago, T. Clay Buck, CFRE, asked a survey question on Twitter:

An informal poll for any who identify as female and also contribute philanthropically. If you are the primary gift giver and are in a relationship, have you ever been listed secondarily or as ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ even though you made the gift?”

While far from being a scientific study, Buck’s poll found that 82 percent of the 68 respondents answered “Yes,” indicating they were recognized inappropriately. Despite not being statistically reliable, the results are sufficiently striking to indicate that the nonprofit sector has a donor-recognition problem.

I’m not surprised. This is the flip side of a problem I’ve talked about on many occasions. Charities often treat women as second-class donor prospects. Now, we see that some nonprofits also treat women as second-class donors.

These problems might be due to carelessness. Or, it could be that some fundraisers are gender biased. Regardless, the way in which some charities treat female prospects and donors is offensive. It’s also stupid. The reality is that women are more philanthropic, in many respects, than men are. Therefore, charities would be wise to immediately address the way they engage with female prospects and donors.

Although I’ve written in the past about gender differences when it comes to philanthropy, I want to highlight some insights from professionally conducted, valid research that underscore the importance of working more effectively with prospects and donors who are women.

A whitepaper from Optimy, Women in Philanthropy, reveals:

  • Women make 64% of charitable donations.
  • Women donate 3.5% of their wealth, on average, while men contribute 1.5%.
  • Women account for 45% of American millionaires.
  • Women will control 2/3 of the total American wealth by 2030.
  • Women are also playing a greater role in philanthropy because of the growth in Giving Circles. Of the 706 Giving Circles reviewed, women led 640.
  • Women made up 77% of foundation professional staff in 2015.

For more insights from Optimy about the role of women in philanthropy and a look at what motivates female donors, download the FREE report by clicking here.

When it comes to planned giving, women are critically important according to a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund study I first cited in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

  • 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% of high-income women have or use a donor-advised fund, charitable remainder trust, or private foundation, versus 10% of high-income men.
  • 7% of high-income women made charitable gifts using securities, versus 3% of high-income men.

Yes, both men and women are valuable contributors to charities who we should cherish. Unfortunately, far too many charities fail to fully appreciate the vital role that women play when it comes to philanthropy. Women are often ignored as solid donor prospects deserving of attention. When women do give, they are often denied the respect and recognition they deserve as Buck’s poll suggests.

Here are some questions to consider as you review your own organization’s donor recognition procedures:

  • When a woman gives, does your organization assume the donation is from her and her significant other?
  • Does your organization recognize women donors by their husband’s name (e.g., Mrs. John Doe, or Mr. & Mrs. John Doe)?
  • When a woman provides a contribution on behalf of herself and her significant other, does your organization put her name first or second?
  • Does your organization recognize a woman donor even if she uses a man’s credit card to make the gift?

Those are just some of the questions you should ask yourself. There are any number of other permutations of who gives, how they give, and how they want to be recognized. If you want your organization to be donor centered (and you should), you need to abandon the traditional, conventional rules (i.e., Mr. & Mrs. John Doe) and recognize donors the way they wish to be recognized.

Several years ago, my wife and I agreed to contribute to a particular charity. I sent a check, drawn on our joint account, to the organization along with the response card indicating both our names. When the thank-you letter arrived, it was only addressed to me. My wife was not happy. I contacted the charity to alert them to the problem and to give them a chance to send a corrected letter of thanks. However, the organization refused saying it was their policy to only acknowledge the individual signing the donation check. I informed the charity that my wife and I also have a policy: We only contribute to organizations that properly acknowledge our philanthropy. We switched our support to another charity with a similar mission. By the way, future appeals from the original charity were addressed to Michael and Tina Rosen. The only problem with that is that my wife’s name is Lisa.

Donors have choices. Your organization is unlikely to have a unique mission. In other words, you have direct competition. If you fail to recognize solid prospects and if you fail to properly recognize your donors, they will realize their philanthropic aspirations by giving elsewhere.

Men are an essential philanthropic resource. So are women. It’s important to remember that and to ensure that your organization’s policies and procedures reflect your understanding of that.

If you’re unsure about how to recognize a donor, ask them. As Buck says:

Let’s just outright tell donors ‘We want to communicate with you however you wish – how would you like your name listed in correspondence? Your family?’ And then effing do it.”

When you show people proper respect, they’ll be far more likely to become loyal supporters. Ignoring women, disrespecting women, or failing to properly recognize women will cost your organization. Come on, it’s 2019. Let’s get this right already.

What has your experience been, either as a donor or fundraiser? What tips do you have for getting it right?

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

5 Responses to “How to Stop Offending Your Women Donors”

  1. Michael,
    Excellent post filled with common sense that, unfortunately, too few seem to use these days. I think Clay’s quote at the end really says it all. The best way to know what a donor wants is to ask them specifically what they want. It’s called being donor-centered.


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