September 18, 2015

Couples Give More to Relief Groups When Wife’s Pay Rises, Study Shows

Salvation Army

When a wife's income grows, she and her husband are more likely to give to groups that provide basic human needs, like the Salvation Army, Red Cross, or groups that help the homeless.

Men and women emphasize different charitable priorities as their incomes grow, according to a new study of married couples’ giving patterns.

When the woman’s income increased, the couple was more likely to give, and to give more, to relief charities and nonprofits that provide basic needs, such as the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or organizations that help the homeless, according to a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

An increase in the man’s income made it more likely the couple would give to international charities, religious organizations, youth groups, and umbrella organizations like Catholic Charities, United Jewish Appeal, or the United Way, the study found.

Una Osili, the director of research at the Lilly School, said the results hold important lessons for fundraisers, especially since women’s incomes have risen in the past two or three decades and their role in the work force has grown.

"In working with them around their giving decisions, it’s important to understand each member of that household is bringing their own ideas, their own preferences, and their own resources to the table," said Ms. Osili. "The one-size-fits-all model is becoming less and less appropriate."

Change of Strategy

Women in high-net-worth households are much more likely than men to donate because of their philosophical or political beliefs, the study found. Wealthy women donors also are more likely than their male counterparts to give to groups where they serve as a volunteer or board member and to give spontaneously in response to the needs of others, according to the findings.

"Fundraisers and nonprofit leaders have to change their strategies and their communication with these donors in a way that can meet the complexity if they want to be successful," said Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute.

One area where gender giving patterns converged: Both gave to nonprofits and programs that help women and girls. About 45 percent of all donors surveyed gave to such causes. When broken out by gender, half of the women donors and two out of five men were giving to this cause.

"This is a very significant finding," said Ms. Mesch. While it makes sense that women would want to support such groups, she said men’s interest in that cause is important.

"So many of the factors that affect women and girls can affect society as a whole, so it’s very encouraging to see that men are engaging in these causes as well," she added.

The new research was supported by a $375,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and findings are available on the Women’s Philanthropy Institute website.

Send an e-mail to Maria Di Mento.