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Nov 5 2012

You Can Be A Philanthropist (Really!)

By at 1:59 pm

As part of our month-long series dedicated to Women, Work & Money, Tamar Snyder highlights the best ways for women to get involved with philanthropy.

Women rarely refer to themselves as philanthropists. We tend to think that the term refers only to the uber-wealthy–to people like Bill Gates, Michael Steinhardt, and the Bronfmans (all men!). But that’s not the case.

In fact, a growing body of research on men, women, and charitable giving suggests that women of all ages–especially Baby Boomers and older–are more likely to give to charity and give more than their male counterparts. This is true even though women still earn less than men, on average; live longer and tend to be more risk averse.

Men and women give differently. In 2011, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the University of Indiana found that high net worth women are more likely than men to give to organizations that move them emotionally and compel them that their gift can make a difference. At the same time, an organization’s efficient use of resources is an important factor influencing women’s giving. Women are also more likely than men to donate money in addition to volunteering their time. While men tend to support the same organizations year after year, women tend to spread the wealth, so to speak, and support a wider array of causes.

Women not only give more than men, they also tend to focus more on certain causes than men. Female-headed households are significantly more likely than their male counterparts to give to international causes, religious and communal organizations, health care and youth and family groups.

You, too, can become a philanthropist (no matter how big or small the dollar amount of your contributions). The key is to emulate the strategies many women naturally take when it comes to their charitable giving. Here are five tips to help you take charge of your philanthropy:

1. Give with intention and be strategic. Mission statements aren’t only for large private foundations. Take the time to explore your personal values and the causes that are important to you. You can do this alone, with a spouse, or as part of a conversation with multiple generations of your family. Try to come up with three primary giving areas. Doing so will allow you to have a greater impact in the areas that are most important to you. It will also make it easier to say no to the causes that aren’t your focus. And, if you still choose to support your nephew’s latest fundraiser run, you can do so at a lower giving level than you might have when your charitable giving was on autopilot.

2. Embrace giving traditions. One woman I met told me that every year after receiving news of a normal mammogram, she gratefully donates to Sharsheret, a nonprofit organization that supports young Jewish women and their families facing breast and ovarian cancer. Giving is not only an expression of her values, but also a concrete way to celebrate good news and count her blessings on a regular basis.

3. Join a giving circle. Giving circles, where like-minded individuals pool their money and other resources and decide together where those resources should be distributed, are increasingly popular. Women are especially attracted to giving circles, in part because they provide an easy way to cultivate friendships and grow one’s network while also being more engaged in philanthropy and potentially achieving more impact with a larger pool of charitable dollars. Consider joining established giving circles, such as the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, or starting your own with a group of friends and colleagues.

4. Get organized. Often the first step to becoming more strategic about your giving is to get a better sense of which causes you are currently contributing to, and how often. I happen to be a big fan of donor advised funds for this purpose (full disclosure: I work for Jewish Communal Fund, the largest Jewish donor advised fund in the country). When you use a DAF, all of your grantmaking records are in one place, so you can get a snapshot view of your giving with just a click of a mouse. Those who prefer traditional checkbook charity can keep track of their charitable contributions using an app like Mint.com or a plain old Excel spreadsheet–whichever works best for you.

5. Get involved. Philanthropists who want to make in impact (and who doesn’t?) know that writing a check isn’t enough. The causes that we care passionately about could also benefit from our time and expertise. Consider joining the board of a local nonprofit. If you are short on time, find ways to advocate on behalf of the organization and spread the word about the causes you care about with your family, friends and colleagues. Your actions can help to increase the value–and impact–of your gift.

Tell us, do you view yourself as a strategic philanthropist? Which charitable gifts do you cherish? And how do you maximize the impact of your giving?

And while you’re at it, head over to this page to vote on where Kveller should make a $5000 donation!

This series was brought to you by a generous grant from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. For more information about the important work they do, go here.

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Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on Kveller are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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