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Let's talk about Gender & Philanthropy

For more than twenty years leading philanthropic projects, I have paid great attention to the interests and motivations of people who donate to social causes. In particular, the interest of women and the ways in which they involve themselves in responding and dealing with difficult situations and social needs.

A very timely study entitled “Encouraging Giving to Women's and Girls Causes: The Role of Social Norms” published this month, by the Women's Philanthropy Institute (WPI) of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, presents four key findings that

resonate with me and should be of great interest to others in the field. The study reveals that: 1. Social norms and charitable giving are strongly linked; 2. There is a gender difference in the link between social norms and charitable giving; 3. People's donation intentions are higher when they receive social norm messages about rising levels of giving and 4; Social norm messages about rising levels of giving are equally effective for men, who traditionally give less than women, to women and girls causes. The research defines social norms as behaviors that are common, valued, and accepted by others.

In Puerto Rico, the disaster caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 motivated many people to donate supplies and money. Most were moved by sad videos and photos that were shared through news channels and social media around the world. The concern of thousands of people regarding the safety of their relatives forged a strong feeling of giving and it became a leading cause in the U.S. and across the world. Reflecting on my recent experiences helping others in the aftermath of the disaster, I find that the Lilly School of Philanthropy study validates and provokes further thought into giving, as it reveals that the influence of women in the action of donating is proven in research.

Looking at the experience in Puerto Rico regarding giving, it behooves us to analyze the call to action in favor of those most affected by the hurricane. One finds that the intention to donate became a shared message, and that it was maximized by groups of leaders, mostly women. The feminine message was clear; journalists, government representatives, nonprofit leaders, business leaders in banking, telecommunications, health, education, distribution and logistics, and leaders in their communities, among other women, all shared and acted upon a common sense of urgency so that donations could be channeled quickly.

The evidence points to gender as a common denominator of successful mobilization, establishing priorities and designing strategies for causes. It also shows that gender is a fundamental determinant in the action of donating and influencing other people in favor of giving. The causes that are identified with women such as the eradication of gender violence, the prevention of breast and ovarian cancer, the quality of life of the elderly, children, the disabled, access to community health, public health, development of a vibrant economy, in short, everything that has the welfare of the community as a common thread, is highly influenced by women.

While the influence of women in achieving the common good is evident, a recent article authored by Kate Whiting and published by the World Economic Forum this month, shows that there are enduring disparities between men and women that limit the potential of female impact. Whiting establishes comparable metrics that measure gender disparities in countries through four sub-indices: economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. The document points out that the disparities gap between men and women has been very slow to close over the last 12 years. By 2006 the gap had been reduced by 3.6%, but between 2006 and 2018 we have only achieved a 0.03% reduction.

The fifth sustainable development objective of the United Nations Organization is gender equality, which also provokes important discussions about gender and philanthropy. We must improve our understanding and elevate the discussion about contributions, influences and achievements of millions of women who respond to solve social problems basing their skills and virtues on action, implementation and immediate response. Their legacy has shown to be determinant for life, especially during the response to catastrophic emergencies.

The author is an expert in the non-profit sector and advises on social innovation. She is the founder and Executive Director of the ChangeMaker Foundation ( with the nominate flag podcast Pivot-ES (

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