4 Keys to Engaging Women as Leaders and Donors

4 Keys to Engaging Women as Leaders and Donors

April 22, 2014 by jga_admin

by Angela White


I was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in the March issue of CASE Currents magazine examining efforts of colleges and universities to better engage women in their development efforts. As the article lays out well, alumnae are often under-represented in volunteer leadership roles in colleges and universities and frequently don’t register on the radar screens of advancement staffs looking to surface major donors because they don’t fit the traditional mold.

From my own experience – and a growing body of academic research on the subject – I can tell you that institutions that fall into this trap are missing out on engaging potential supporters and their significant gifts.


The article illustrates several examples of programs that are effectively harnessing the leadership of women donors and graduates, including the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Council, Duke University’s Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Initiative, and Xavier University’s Women of Excellence program.


The author of the article suggests four keys to engaging women as donors and leaders that are worth repeating:


  1. Include both spouses in giving conversations. Research shows that the majority of charitable decisions are either jointly made, or made primarily by the wife, so engaging both partners is a good strategy in the immediate gifting decision. Long-term, we know that women frequently outlive their spouses and are left as the sole decision maker for a couple’s combined wealth. An institution that does not develop relationships with both partners risks losing their support if their contact dies first.
  2. Understand the differences in how women and men approach giving. As I say in the article, generally speaking women take longer to cultivate, look more to build relationships with the organizations they support, and expect to be more involved in the life of the organization. They are savvy donors who want to see and understand the results of their gifts.
  3. Stop pigeonholing women. This is good advice for any broadly defined group of donors. You should never rely on stereotypes or broadly drawn caricatures to guide your strategy. The author quotes Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy professor Deb Mesch’s assertion that you have to “go beyond the pink campaign” and not rely on girly gimmicks to catch the attention of women. Women don’t need a dumbed-down or prettied-up approach, they want substance and impact.
  4. Reach out. Women may not be as eager to self-identify or assert their giving intentions to your organization. It takes a focused strategy to change leadership culture and inspire women to grow into their proper role as bold donors, leaders, and role models for their institutions.

I encourage you to read the entire article, examine the efforts of the institutions highlighted, and think through how your organization is ­– or can begin – working to engage women as leaders and donors.