According to Indiana University’s Women’s Philanthropy Institute, household decision-making patterns have changed. In the institute’s Women Give 2021 report, 61.5% of couples make charitable giving decisions together, a significant decline from 73.4% of couples making joint giving decisions in 2005[1]. When just one partner decides, it’s more often a woman – and she’s also more likely to be less financially generous than a male partner who decides independently. Regardless of who decides, only about 1% of households talk with a financial or philanthropic advisor about their giving strategies.

“These findings have significant implications for women and the charitable organizations they care about,” said Annamaria Vitelli, executive vice president and head of Hawthorn, which supports PNC Private Bank’s family office clients. “There’s an incredible opportunity for financial organizations like Hawthorn to help women develop their philanthropic muscle.”

Vitelli and Avery Fontaine, head of Philanthropy & Impact for Hawthorn, work every day with families who seek to make an impact. They shared their insights on women as the driving force in philanthropy.

What makes you optimistic about the future of women’s philanthropy?

Vitelli: Women’s influence will continue to drive household financial decisions, including philanthropy, as a result of ongoing population and demographic shifts. According to McKinsey & Company, women currently control about $10 trillion in household assets and are poised to inherit the bulk of the $30 trillion in wealth transfer from Baby Boomers to Generations X and Y by 2030[2]. Additionally, women are making their own way in the corporate world, with 44% of companies now having three or more women in the C-Suite (up from 29% in 2015).

How has the pandemic impacted the trajectory for women and philanthropy?

Fontaine: The alarming dropout rate from women in the workforce hinges very much on the issue of childcare. If children are not safe in day care or school, then the livelihood of a working mother, no matter how accomplished, is at risk. The pandemic highlighted what we already knew: childcare is expensive and an issue that directly impacts women. It’s also ripe for women’s philanthropy. Many nonprofit lenders like Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs) that support childcare center operators accept tax-deductible gifts from philanthropists. You can also give directly to nonprofit childcare centers and afterschool programs in your community, and support legislation and legislators who advocate for women and families.

Billionaires MacKenzie Scott and Melinda Gates have garnered headlines for their philanthropic moxie; what influence can they have on the average women’s charitable giving?

Fontaine: It is gratifying to see women philanthropists who are breaking free of convention, such as Scott and Gates as well as Irene Pritzker, Liesel Pritzker Simmons, Sara Blakely and Lyda Hill. Their approach is what inspires us. They’re not playing second fiddle, and how they communicate their intentions and deploy their resources are instructive. Because grantmaking alone cannot solve systemic economic gender gap issues, Melinda augmented her philanthropic support of women by starting Pivotal Ventures, a venture capital fund dedicated solely to funding women’s startups. Her belief is if you help women build wealth, they will, in turn, pay it forward. MacKenzie writes an article every time she distributes another round of funding, speaking directly in her voice and sharing her thought process, teaching us all as she learns herself.

Vitelli: What’s more, MacKenzie’s method of trust-based philanthropy is incredibly motivating. She trusts the leaders of the nonprofits she supports to know their subject matter best and to spend her unrestricted gift as their business model needs it. As a result of their approaches to philanthropy, and their own relatable marital struggles, many women with a donor advised fund or a recurring gift to their local nonprofit have taken notice. They’re asking us good questions and thinking more strategically about how to make a difference with trust and empowerment as themes.

How have online giving, GoFundMe pages, and Giving Circles changed philanthropy for women?

Fontaine: Giving online and via text provide the ease of user experience we have all come to expect with any transaction. Zelle® and Apple Pay® are our norm now, and why should it be any different for philanthropy? Women are balancing families, careers and aging parents; anything that can make life easier and connect them to a community will increase the likelihood of a transaction. Giving Circles are growing, both online and in person. Founder & CEO Wendy Steele started Impact 100, a giving circle for women that’s in almost every major U.S. market. Emily Rasmussen, founder & CEO of Grapevine, has brilliantly combined fintech, thematic giving and giving circles to inspire both philanthropy and community from a smartphone or laptop. GoFundMe, while not tax deductible, is another popular way to support a cause you care about.