Ilona Titova/shutterstock

Ilona Titova/shutterstock

During a pandemic, we’re learning, the needs of individuals and nonprofits increase, people in nonessential fields stay home, and philanthropy ramps up and goes digital. We now see fundraising, events, communication, social service delivery and more taking place via phone or Internet. While the spread of the virus shifted the push to virtual funding into overdrive, it was already an established trend—in 2018, 54% of donors worldwide preferred to give online with a credit or debit card. In 2019, total online revenue for nonprofits grew by 10%.

Women, in particular, have strongly embraced online giving, according to new research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI). “Women Give 2020—New Forms of Giving in a Digital Age: Powered by Technology, Creating Community,” finds that women are, overall, giving more donations and money than men online, when examining four major online giving platforms. “Women Give 2020” is the 11th in a series of WPI reports and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a key backer of WPI’s work.

Previous WPI research found women are more likely to give than men and tend to spread their giving across more organizations, while men give larger amounts to fewer groups. These patterns appear to hold true within online philanthropy. A key theme of the new report is that women give more gifts and dollars than men online, at nearly two-thirds of gifts across platforms, and 53% to 61% of overall dollars. The new study also aligns with evidence that women have used social media more than men in the past decade.

We spoke to WPI Associate Director of Research Jacqueline Ackerman about this research and some of the challenges and opportunities of digital fundraising and philanthropy at this time. “Given the shift in this pandemic to life online, nonprofits must use technology to engage donors and build relationships,” she says.

Women’s Giving Across Digital Platforms

This report is based on more than 3.7 million gift transactions over multiple years as well as case studies on GivingTuesday via Charity Navigator, GlobalGiving, Givelify, and Growfund from Global Impact. Ackerman says these four partners allowed her team “to analyze how women and men give around [unique areas] of philanthropy,” including giving days and viral and/or social media-driven giving (GivingTuesday), international giving (GlobalGiving), congregational giving (Givelify), and donor-advised fund (DAF) and collective giving (Growfund).

A few principal findings shared by WPI were that women give smaller digital gifts than men and also give to smaller charitable organizations. On some platforms, women gave the majority of online gifts to smaller groups. But in some cases, they also often gave more gifts than men to larger organizations. For example, on Giving Tuesday, women gave 66.3% of online gifts to organizations with revenues under $5 million as well as 63.7% of gifts to those with revenues over $50 million. When congregation size was considered on Givelify, instead of organization revenue, women gave the majority of gifts across the board. But they actually gave the highest percentage of gifts to larger congregations.

As stated above, women were found to give more gifts and dollars than men online, overall. On Growfund, a tool launched by Global Impact that offers $0-minimum DAF giving for corporations, giving circles and individuals, there were some variations in these trends. WPI looked at gendered giving by individuals and giving circles on Growfund. It found men’s individual contributions to Growfund DAFs surpassed women’s in terms of both number and total dollars. But, women distributed a higher percentage of the dollars moving out of DAFs to nonprofits.

Women’s giving circle DAF activity was higher, in terms of both the money going in and out, which makes sense because women make up the majority of giving circle members. While men tended to contribute and distribute larger gifts with giving circle accounts, the higher number of women’s gifts made them the bigger contributors and distributors with giving circle DAFs, overall.

Another overriding theme was that women’s and girls’ organizations receive substantially more support from women donors than from men. On GivingTuesday and GlobalGiving, women gave more than 60% of the dollars and gifts to women’s and girls’ organizations. Again, Growfund individual DAFs were outliers — men gave about 43% of gifts and 86.5% of total dollars to women’s and girls’ organizations from their accounts. Women gave more than 80% of gifts and dollars to these groups from giving circle accounts.

One of the new studies’ noted limitations was, “Because the [datasets] do not contain an extensive set of demographics, gender differences may be due to underlying factors for which data are unavailable.” WPI previously found wealth, marital status and other traits can affect financial giving.

In April 2019, WPI began to “repurpose” its “Women Give 2020” research and symposium content into a “Philanthropy Plugged In” podcast series. The podcast launch featured GivingTuesday CEO Asha Curran, Alice President Elizabeth Gore, Ms. Foundation for Women CEO and President Teresa Younger, and others.

A Closer Look at Online Giving During a Pandemic

We know COVID-19 is driving an increase in crowdfunding and other kinds of digital philanthropy. The number of coronavirus-related campaigns on GoFundMe rose 60% between March 20 and March 24, alone. But while online donations are easy and fast, they can lack the personal connections inherent to other forms of financial support and nonprofit engagement, such as volunteering or giving through a community fundraiser. The report authors state technology that “augments,” rather than replaces, in-person generosity will serve “women—and all donors—well.”

We asked Ackerman how nonprofits can use tech to engage online donors on a more personal and lasting level—a challenge that is all the more urgent at this time. A few of her suggestions are holding virtual meetings and using tech to curate causes to match donors’ interests, modify messaging for different donors, and carry out real-time storytelling. “Something as simple as personalized videos shot on an iPhone can connect donors quickly to your organization’s impact and mission.”

“Many community foundations, United Ways [and more] are organizing events and collaborations online, or using social media,” Ackerman says. An upcoming example is the Ms. Foundation for Women’s May 20 #RoarforWomen online “Feminist Block Party,” which will be both a virtual nonprofit fundraiser and dance party.

Also, the WPI report states that the Growfund app can support interpersonal connection and collaboration for giving circles that generally meet in person. The app facilitates event management, communication, online voting and “knowledge sharing.” These tools can be of great use to a branch of philanthropy that is still growing its infrastructure and are even more vital during a pandemic.

WPI has a lot of future research planned, Ackerman says, including into global gendered philanthropy and younger donors. Relating to this specific report, she is now eager to explore whether “technology is creating new donors or simply moving existing donors online.” Her hunch is that “it depends.” She says while tech is shifting some donations to a new format, “[Other] things could be growing giving, like social media campaigns, viral campaigns, apps and platforms that aim to make giving and choices about giving [easier].”

Will the demonstrated trends in women’s online philanthropy continue during the pandemic, as crowdfunding and other kinds of giving increase? Ackerman says it is hard to know; while we are now seeing a “wave of generosity… many Americans are feeling uncertain about their own financial future and may delay donating until the situation becomes more clear.” So, it’s hard to predict what will happen with giving in general, women’s giving or online giving.

But Ackerman also reminds us WPI research shows women are more likely to give than men and give in greater amounts, “holding other factors constant.” She says this gender difference “was consistent before, during, and after the Great Recession, [and] women were more likely to give to disaster relief in 2017 and 2018. So, [based on previous research], we might expect these trends to continue.”

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