This study highlights new data to understanding who gives to women’s and girls’ causes and their motivations for support.
Women's Philanthropy Institute

Within academic research, individual philanthropy directed to women’s and girls’ causes has been understudied. This study highlights new data to understanding who gives to women’s and girls’ causes and their motivations for support. We conducted a two-part, mixed-methods study in the United States. First, we fielded a brief survey among a nationally representative survey panel. Second, we conducted seven focus groups among United Way and women’s fund donors who actively funded women’s and girls’ causes as well as donors who focused on other areas in their giving. In the survey, we find that among people giving to charity, half of women and 40 percent of men self-report giving to at least one cause that primarily affects women and girls.


Women are both more likely to give to women’s and girls’ causes and give larger amounts to these causes, and are more likely to report giving to domestic violence organizations, women’s centers, LGBT rights, cancer care and research, and economic opportunities for women and girls. In the focus groups, women report giving to women’s and girls’ causes based on their personal experiences, including experiencing discrimination and having children, and because they believe giving to women and girls provides the best social return. 

Surveys on giving do not examine giving to women and girls as a distinct category of support.

Barriers to giving to women’s and girls’ causes include the complexity and scalability of women’s issues, the sex- segregated nature of women’s giving, and the connection to political issues which are often embedded in women’s causes. While this study provides valuable new research, more research is needed to understand generational differences among donors and how organizations focusing on women and girls can increase donor support.


Study Highlights

  • Current national surveys on philanthropic giving do not examine giving to women and girls as a distinct category of support. Therefore, knowing the amount of such giving has been difficult to estimate. Further, women’s and girls’ causes appear in many of the traditional charitable subsectors, such as human services, health, education, and international causes. 

  • To date, women’s funds and foundations, as well as designated grant-making by foundations, have been the one area of philanthropic giving where estimates for giving to women’s and girls’ causes are available. Research estimates only 5 to 7 percent of all foundation funding is specifically directed to women’s and girls’ initiatives (Foundation Center & WFN, 2009; Shah, McGill & Weisblatt, 2011). 

  • This study finds female survey respondents are more likely than male respondents to give to women’s and girls’ causes. Considering women’s likelihood to give women’s and girls’ causes, women are also more likely to give to these causes. 

  • Female respondents are more likely than male respondents to give to some specific women’s and girls’-related causes, including: domestic violence; women’s centers; lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights; cancer research, diagnosis, and support (breast, ovarian, etc.); and economic opportunities for women and girls. 

  • Age (as age increases) and higher income levels are the most likely determinants of giving to women’s and girls’ causes; other control variables do not affect giving to a similar extent. 

  • A majority of donors (56 percent) report that they do not focus their giving on women and girls. Among donors, 14.6 percent report giving to a particular area that impacts women and girls and 29.4 percent give to an organization that in part, focuses on women’s and girls’ issues. 

  • Respondents who give to women’s and girls’ causes are more likely to indicate that women’s rights and community development are social issue priorities to them, and are less likely to indicate that tax policy is a priority for them. 

  • Donors who concentrate their giving on women and girls tend to have a more focused approach to their giving as compared to donors who support a wide range of causes. 

  • Donors who support causes for women and girls expressed motivations in terms of their personal experiences and the belief that funding women’s and girl’s initiatives leads to societal progress. 

  • Donors to women’s funds saw these organizations as having particular expertise and trusted them to distribute grants effectively. 

  • Donors seek a range of opportunities to support children especially through multiple channels including sex-specific initiatives as well as initiatives that benefit all children so that no child is ignored.