(Liveblog) WPI Research: New Options as Household Giving Changes

On Tuesday, March 16th, representatives from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute hosted a virtual event to reveal the findings of the first new data in 15 years on household charitable decision-making. The findings came down to a key point: 61.5% of couples make giving decisions together, representing a drop from 73.4% in 2005.

So, what does this mean for feminist giving, women’s giving, and the power of household giving?

Women Give 2021 kicked off with an introduction from Jeannie Sager, Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. “We are so grateful to have allies and advocates in our work,” said Sager. She also introduced the day’s panelists, Yolanda F. Johnson (YFJ Consulting; Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy); Adrienne Penta (Center for Women & Wealth at Brown Brothers Harriman); and Marty Cordes (Cordes Foundation).

Why This Topic, and Why Now?

“We wanted to update this important topic,” Sager explained. “Families have been changing in recent decades: Families’ incomes are more important to women, and more women are the main breadwinners.”

As a result, household giving and the conversations surrounding household charitable giving have also changed.

Report Findings

61.5% of households make giving decisions together — still a majority, but representing a decline from 73.4% in 2005.

61.5% of couples decide jointly; 15.3% have the woman decide, 12.1% have the man decide, and the remaining 11.1% separately decide.

“When one partner in the household makes giving decisions, it is more likely to be a woman,” Sager explained.

The research compared charitable giving to other financial decisions within the household, finding it is most similar to “short-term financial management.” At the same time, only 1.1% of couples consult with a financial advisor on their personal philanthropy.

Most couples talk about their philanthropy at least a few times a year, therefore, philanthropic financial advisors have an excellent opportunity to work with dual-income households and families to explore the ways they are interested in giving.

Surprises Within the Report

Adrienne Penta, a financial advisor, spoke to the “heartening” increase in women being the focal deciders for philanthropic decisions within households.

“We see women having a much stronger point of view around their values, missions, and decision-making in philanthropy,” she said. More robust conversations around philanthropy creates more robust philanthropy.”

Marty Cordes echoed Penta’s thoughts. “What surprised me… is the trend that couples are going to make decisions separately rather than as a unit.”

Here, Cordes referred to the increase in women’s independent philanthropic decisions within the household, espousing the impact of women’s philanthropy programs that focus on education and “how to engage.”

Yolanda F. Johnson also expressed her surprise at this new trend in household giving.

“We’ve started to put together all of the research and learning about donors… to learn that fundraisers aren’t approaching women correctly,” she said. “It will be very interesting to see how these trends will continue as giving decisions become more separate.”

“There’s just not enough quality time in the day for families and couples to make every decision together,” said Penta. She identified this as a potential reason for the “smaller checks” coming from busy households. When a family has an average of “37 minutes of quality time per day,” it’s more likely for families to rush through the decision-making for quick impact rather than long-term impact.

This “divide and conquer” mentality, Penta suggested, could be a reason why family giving is often lower in dollar figure: With so little time in the day, household financial decision-makers may just think, “I’m just going to write that check,” and move on with their days.

Cordes spoke to the trend in household members developing their own financial resources. Many couples are marrying later and continuing to keep their finances separate from each other, leading to an increase in separate philanthropic decision-making.

“I actually don’t find the research to be mutually exclusive,” said Johnson. “The trend may be toward an individual focus, but what I’ve heard from people directly is an appreciation for what their partner brings to the table.”

Johnson added that in her personal experience, the giving amounts go up when she is able to get to know the couple further through their philanthropy.

“Let’s up the ante,” she said. “If something major is happening, let’s give it a push and make it happen. It’s a lovely balance between independent decision-making and increased donation dollar amounts.”

How Fundraisers Can Help Couples Share and Grow Their Philanthropy Together

“One of the pain points for the fundraising industry is record-keeping,” said Johnson.

She explained that fundraisers struggle to keep information on couples’ values, motivations, and previous giving in clear records. This issue becomes even more prevalent when comparing two individuals within a household — each with their own inclinations and motivations, all of which need to be targeted for fundraising and charitable giving.

“This needs to become a better priority, because the more that you know, the more you’ll be able to tap into both sides of that coin,” she said. “It opens the door for more conversations: Once you know your donors, you can approach them in a more impactful way.”

Wealth Advisors and Philanthropic Advisors: Why the Gap in Philanthropic Conversations?

“I’ll try to contain myself here,” Penta joked, speaking to the 1.1% of couples who speak to financial advisors about philanthropy. “It is inexcusable for financial advisors not to be having conversations about philanthropy with their clients.”

She expressed the importance of these conversations not being “value judgments,” but rather open conversations surrounding the clients’ interests in charitable giving.

“Philanthropy should be part of the overall, holistic conversation around wealth,” she said. “How do your values drive decision-making around wealth? Philanthropy is the easiest and most effective conversation around how your values can make an impact in the world.”

Monetary Thresholds, Risk Aversion, and Philanthropic Decisions

Johnson and Penta discussed the results of the research showing that women have a lower monetary threshold for approaching their partners with financial decisions, rather than just making the decisions themselves.

“We feel compelled to give, and we don’t feel pressure,” Johnson explained. “It’s an extension of who I am and at my own pace.”

This methodology of philanthropy as an investment is growing in popularity among woman-led households, single women, and married couples. Generally, when a woman is ready to make a donation, she tends to do more research into the organizations she is donating to, but she is also more likely to “pull the trigger” and make the donation rather than wait for what a partner is going to say. At the same time, women tend to approach their partners for input when the dollar amount of the donation increases.

“I don’t see that women are more risk-averse, it’s more that they’re risk-aware,” said Penta. “They want to see the effect of their decisions before they go along with it.”

Closing Remarks

Ultimately, the new WPI research shows that shifting perspectives within household giving present a range of new opportunities for feminist funding. As mutual aid and community funding efforts continue to grow, generosity will express itself in unique and all-encompassing ways.

Post-pandemic, the speakers hope that the encouraging household giving trends continue to rise.

“We’re so thrilled to add Women Give 2021 to our library and the tools in your toolbox to really put this research into practice,” said Sager.

To review the full report, visit WPI’s website here.


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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