The Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy


From giving circles to #GivingTuesday to the Giving Pledge, social movements are inspiring people to give. Donors are increasingly making their voices heard—and urging others to join their causes.

Previous research and anecdotal evidence have shown that knowing about other people’s giving can inspire a person to give. For example, individuals are more likely to donate to a cause after they see many other people donating. Social influence can be a highly powerful force and can increase donations for charities that are able to utilize it.

But what about charitable causes that are less popular or visible? How might these causes leverage social information to inspire support from donors? Encouraging Giving to Women’s & Girls’ Causes: The Role of Social Norms explores how perceptions of others’ behavior influences donors’ giving to women and girls causes—and whether that differs depending on the donor’s gender.

Conducted by The Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy, this research has a special focus on women’s and girls’ causes. Nonprofits in this area face unique social challenges to obtaining donor support. For example, how can charities that serve women and girls encourage greater giving from men, who typically give to them at lower levels than women?

The findings provide new insights into how potential donors respond to others’ giving behaviors. Using an experimental methodology, the study investigates how social norms can directly influence giving to women’s and girls’ causes. It also examines whether social norms may have differing impacts for men and women. These findings can help nonprofits and fundraising professionals apply a social norms approach to encourage giving. 

Some highlights:

  • Social norms and charitable giving are strongly linked: When people believe that others are interested in giving to women’s and girls’ causes, they have greater intentions to donate to these causes themselves.
  • There is a gender difference in the link between social norms and charitable giving: Men’s giving to women’s and girls’ causes is strongly tied to how they think men and women give; women’s giving is strongly tied to how they think other women give.
  • People’s donation intentions are higher when they receive social norms messages about rising levels of giving: Focusing on the rising popularity of women’s and girls’ causes increases people’s intentions to donate to those causes, compared to focusing on current levels of giving. This tactic is equally effective for male and female donors.

Read the full report below and download the infographic.