Many older women may be frugal with their money, but they still donate more than men.
Sorry, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Baby boomer women, and even older women, are more generous philanthropists than men.
Older women give 89 percent more of their total income to charity than their male counterparts, according to a survey by the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.
The study defies the stereotypes of older women being tight with their money, author Debra Mesch said, and shows how women are transforming philanthropy.
For Lee Roper-Batker, president of the Women's Foundation of Minnesota, the results reflect what's happening in Minnesota.
"When we were founded in 1983, it took us 12 years to raise a $10 million endowment," Roper-Batker said. "We did a campaign about five years ago and raised $15 million in three years. It demonstrates how women philanthropy has grown. The image of the monopoly banker is shifting."
The study examined the giving habits of 1,109 male and female single heads of households, folks who were separated, divorced, widowed and never married. It didn't look at married couples, Mesch said, because they often pool their incomes and make philanthropy decisions jointly.
Examining their giving habits is important, Mesch said, because boomers are 76 million strong, hold 90 percent of the country's net worth and are likely to shape the face of philanthropy in decades ahead.
The study found that more men donated smaller portions of their incomes than women. For example, 68 percent of men donated less than 1 percent of their incomes to charities compared to 58 percent of women.
But more women donated bigger chunks of cash: 19 percent of the women donated 3 percent or more of their income compared with 11 percent of men.
In love with philanthropy
Anne Rizzo, of St. Paul, is among the single boomer philanthropists. She discovered the world of giving about 20 years ago, when her executive search business was hired by Outward Bound, a nonprofit outdoor leadership program.
Now she writes out checks to at least a half dozen organizations, such as services for the disabled and the Washburn Center for Children. Like many women studied by the Center on Philanthropy, she focuses her giving on programs that she feels a personal connection with.
Washburn Center for Children, for example, was a place where one of her children received services when he was young, and it's the place where her college-age son recently had an internship.
"I just fell in love with the whole concept of philanthropy," Rizzo said. "I had no idea what the nonprofit world was doing."
The range of donations varies wildly among women, Roper-Batker said.
"We had an older woman who would cash her Social Security check and send us some dollar bills every month in an envelope," she recalled. "It almost brought me to tears. There would be a note saying, 'This is all I can give. Keep up the good work.'"
Other women have a bigger nest egg to share. Kris Maritz, a loan underwriter from Minneapolis, said she started a donor-advised fund at the Women's Foundation of Minnesota in 1998, in memory of her mother who had just passed away. She continues to support the foundation, as well as a half dozen other organizations that support women.
Maritz, who is divorced, recalls how tough it was to juggle being a wife, mother and career professional. She said she's motivated to help other women in similar situations.
The study found that throughout the range of incomes and educational levels, women donated a bigger portion of their incomes than men. Women in the top 25 percent of the income range, with incomes of $61,000, donated an average of $256 a year and men donated $100.
Women also tend to be loyal donors, sticking with an organization for many years, Mesch said.
"Men are much more likely to get out their checkbooks and write a check," Mesch said. "Women tend to want to get involved with an organization and feel passionate about the cause."
A look at married women
The findings aren't just a reflection of what is happening to single women, Roper-Batker said, noting that married women often make family decisions on charitable giving. The Center on Philanthropy, in previous studies, found that about half of married women do just that, Mesch said.
Roper-Batker recalled meeting with some wealthy donors, a husband-wife team, at a nice restaurant recently to request a six-figure donation. After listening to her describe the project that needed funding, "the woman looked at me right away and said, 'Yes, we can do that.' Later I talked to the husband ... who said he had about half that much in mind."
The survey was based on data from 2003 to 2007, before the recession, Mesch said. While the recession may have affected individuals' level of giving, the portion of giving between men and women was probably the same, she said. The Center on Philanthropy conducted a similar study two years ago that found similar giving patterns, she said.
"The findings add to the growing body of knowledge about the importance of gender in philanthropy," she said.
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511