Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Years ago, I volunteered with an understaffed nonprofit that struggled to recruit hands-on board members willing to pitch in beyond scheduled meetings. I vividly recall a colleague relaying the tale of how a longtime donor shot her down when she invited him to join the board.  He declined, saying: “I give my time or my money to organizations, but not both.”

His strange pronouncement just killed the conversation.  Put in a tough spot, she couldn’t jeopardize his financial contribution by continuing to ask for his time. He’d given her an ultimatum, it seemed.

Hearing the story then, I felt like he was tossing out a well-practiced line to hustle her off the phone.  Surely, he gives both time and money to the causes that he’s truly invested in, I thought—ours just didn’t make the cut.

Now, I’m not so sure.  I’ve met many men in the intervening years who would much prefer to write a check and move on.  While for me, writing a check is often just first base.

Turns out that gender plays a role in all this. The Women’s Philanthropy Institute has published a raft of research outlining the differences in the ways that men and women give their time and money.  While the findings are generalizations–both men and women buck the trends sometimes–the research results don’t feel far-fetched based on my experience.

Giving Women

The time or money conundrum came to mind today because I attended a board meeting for the YWCA of Richmond and left pondering ways to give the organization more of my time. The more I hear about the major impact it’s having in the lives of women and children in our community, the more I want to do.

That’s typical of women.  We usually have a more intimate working relationship with the groups we support and try to directly ensure that our charitable dollars have maximum impact. Here are some interesting findings on the differences between men and women’s giving, also from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute:

  • Single women are significantly more likely than single men to make a philanthropic gift.
  • Married men and married women are both more likely to give and to make larger gifts than single men, indicating that women’s propensity for giving influences the philanthropic habits of their husbands.
  • Female-headed households are more likely than or as likely to give as male-headed households in every charitable subsector.
  • Women who participate in a network are more likely to give back to the community than those who do not participate. They are also more likely to give to an organization that is efficient.
  • Women who participate in donor education programs are more likely to give larger gifts, to give unrestricted gifts, to develop a long-term giving plan, and to hold leadership roles on nonprofit boards.

“When it comes to winning support or raising money for your cause, women are not a niche audience.  They are the audience, because they vote, volunteer, and give to more organizations than men do.”

–Lisa Witter, Coo, Fenton Communications
Making Philanthropy Count: How Women Are Changing the World (PDF)

Raised to Serve

Personally, my volunteer and giving habits are directly attributable to the example that both of my parents set for me.  My dad was a lawyer and served on half a dozen community boards while I was growing up.  In the summers when I was too cool for camp and too young to drive, he would shuttle me to and from volunteer jobs. My mom worked in higher education administration and was active in two women’s volunteer groups during my formative years.  She also was a founding donor and former advisory board president of the Women’s Endowment Fund for the Akron Community Foundation. (See more on that here.)

As I’ve gotten older my volunteer hours have increased right along with my charitable donations.  In the past, I might have donated to a cause on a whim.  Now, I want to hear nonprofits’ stories, meet their leadership and then, if so moved, contribute to their success financially and as an advocate, advisor or volunteer. It’s not a direct correlation, but usually the larger the donation the more involved I’m likely to be as a volunteer.

I also give more intentionally now that I’m a mother.  I still support a few arts and literary organizations, but I am much more focused on aiding education and social services causes serving children.

When I’m really psyched about a group, it’s not unusual for me to make a donation, solicit donations from others, give speeches or make media appearances on its behalf. I can amplify the impact of my donations when I bring other donors, volunteers and strategic partners to the table with me.

For example, I recently made a donation to a start-up student-run nonprofit whose cause is close to my heart.  I was impressed by their youth and initiative and wanted to help ensure that they were successful in meeting their overall fundraising and awareness goals.  And because it’s a student group, I also wanted the team to gain the knowledge and connections they need to thrive long term.

Beyond the check, I have spent my time calling people I know and sharing the group’s story.  The goal is to engage people in my network who can help the group win media coverage, build its advisory board and grow local awareness of their organization.

But enough about me.  What kinds of groups do you support? Have your charitable interests changed over time?  Do you find yourself giving time where you give money? Do you think men and women give differently?

Please scroll down to comment below.  Thank you!