Women and Philanthropy: The Secret to Social Change

Here’s something you might not know: If you want your philanthropic dollars to have the greatest impact and drive the most social change, give them to organizations that benefit women and girls. “Research shows that’s one of the most effective ways to change the world,” says Gillian R. Howell, National Philanthropic Solutions Executive, U.S. Trust. “Improving the life of a female creates benefits and opportunities for her extended family, future generations, and even the larger community in which she lives. That, almost by definition, is high-impact philanthropy,” — in other words, just the kind of focused, effective effort that many wealthy donors favor today.

Whether they are giving or receiving philanthropic capital, women of all ages may be the key to a better world.

There are several reasons that gifts to women have disproportionate impact. One is that women and girls today generally suffer more deprivations than men do — so even a small amount of aid can have an outsize benefit. “According to the World Food Program, for example, while women make up a little more than half of the world’s population, they account for more than 60% of the hungry,” Howell says. “And, among females aged 15 to 4, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.”1

Women and education


Another reason that gifts to women can be so effective is because they are closely tied to the historical role of women as primary caregivers. Says Howell: “Research by the World Bank shows that women worldwide reinvest an average of 90% of their available resources in food, education, and healthcare for their families, while the reinvestment rate for men is 35% to 40%. In this way, women can help create a permanent path out of poverty.”2

What’s more, a focus just on girls’ education can have a long-term positive influence far beyond an individual and her family. “The Girl Effect campaign, created by Nike in 2008, found that when a girl has seven or more years of education, she will marry four years later than girls without that much education and have two fewer children, thereby limiting her economic burden,” Howell says. “And when 10% more girls go to secondary school, the country’s economy grows by 3%.”

From a U.S. perspective, it may be hard to understand how a mere seven years of education could have such significant impact. Yet education was among several factors former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted in a 2010 speech to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women: “When women are given the opportunity of education and access to healthcare, their families and communities prosper. And when women have equal rights, nations are more stable, peaceful, and secure.”3

social change by women


Here’s something else you might not know: Women give more to charity, on average, than men do — in some income groups, almost twice as much.4 They also tend to have very different motivations for philanthropy, preferring to focus more on empathy and care than on such advantages as tax benefits.5, 6

“So we are faced with an intriguing juxtaposition,” says Claire M. Costello, an executive in U.S. Trust’s Philanthropic Practice Group. “Women are at the forefront of philanthropy in this country. And at the same time, they are disproportionately affected by harmful social and environmental conditions around the world.”

As it happens, giving to women and girls is growing at a faster pace than overall foundation giving.7Howell notes that opportunities for giving to women have expanded greatly since the country’s first women’s fund, Ms. Foundation for Women, was founded in 1972,8 and today “there are almost 150 women’s funds in the Women’s Funding Network, a network dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls,” she says. “There are also hundreds of women’s giving circles around the world, most of which focus on issues affecting women and girls.” Of course, not all women give to women and girls. “Many do, in my experience, but many also choose to give elsewhere,” Howell says. “Indeed, the decision on where to focus one’s philanthropy is highly personal. It relates to one’s passions, values, interests and beliefs.”


If you think your giving could use more of the kind of personal passion Howell underscores, her colleague offers a specific opportunity. “We created a customized workshop exclusively for our female clients, called Philanthropy with Passion and Purpose,” says Costello. “Many participants come away more connected to that which matters most to them and in turn become more effective and impactful givers.” (For more on the workshop, please see Philanthropy with Passion and Purpose.)

“For some, finding philanthropic focus can be difficult,” Howell says. “The important thing is to get started.” If you would like more information, please call your Financial Advisor and ask for these brochures: Guide to Giving Through a Gender Lens and High-Impact Giving to Women and Girls: A Guide for Donors.

Philanthropy for others creates social changePHILANTHROPY WITH PASSION AND PURPOSE

This workshop, exclusively for female clients, centers on women’s charitable giving. Claire Costello, a workshop leader, describes the experience:

The workshop is designed to help women understand how well their current giving or volunteering is in sync with what they truly care about. It asks whether their time and money are being allocated to that which matters most to them. Once they’re equipped with that inner knowledge, we help them use it to inform their generosity and guide their giving.

Some attendees come to realize they are engaging disproportionately in obligatory giving — giving to something that is not really of interest to them — often because their peers have asked them to or for “social reciprocity.” We help women strike a more sustainable and rewarding balance with their giving — a balance that is predicated on their personal values and interests.

If need be, we’ll help them create a mission statement or personal credo, a governing compass that helps them stay on track — and be more effective and ultimately more personally fulfilled — in their giving.
Research shows that women in this country control more wealth and are more generous than men. So harnessing the power and potential of the generosity of women is critical to drive social change, the well-being of our communities and the world beyond. Philanthropy with Passion and Purpose aims to do just that.

For more information on Philanthropy with Passion and Purpose, please contact Claire Costello

Female Hardships in Global Terms (data most recent and rounded)

  • 50% of the global population is women.9
  • 10% of income is earned, and 1% of property is owned, by women.10
  • 60% of those who go hungry are women.11
  • 64% of adults who cannot read or write are women.12
  • 57% of children not attending primary school are girls.12
  • 30% of women are physically, sexually or otherwise abused.13
  • 14% of women (in some countries) die in pregnancy or childbirth.14
  • 50% of human trafficking victims are women.15
1 U.N. Women, Facts & Figures,, 2010.
2 U.S. Department of State, Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls: Why Women? Why Now? – 2010. Women Moving Millions Campaign. – 2010. The World Bank, Gender Equality as Smart Economics: A World Bank Action Plan, 2006.
3 U.S. Department of State, Remarks at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Hillary Rodham Clinton, March 12, 2010.
4, 2010.
5 Research conducted by Dr. Debra Mesch, Director, Women’s Philanthropy Institute, 2010 (not published).
6 Andreoni, J., Brown, E., & Rischall, I. (2003). “Charitable giving by married couples: Who decides and why does it matter?” The Journal of Human Resources, 38(1), 111–133. and Andreoni, J. & Vesterlund, L. (2001). “Which Is the Fair Sex? Gender Differences in Altruism.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 116(1), 293–312.
7 The Foundation Center and Women’s Funding Network, Accelerating Change for Women and Girls: The Role of Women’s Funds, 2009.
8 Ms. Foundation for Women.
9 CIA World Factbook,, 2010.
10 Care, Women’s Empowerment, William J. Clinton Foundation, International Women’s Day.
11 World Food Program, Women and Hunger: 10 Facts,, 2010.
12 UNESCO, Adult and Youth Literacy Fact Sheet, 2011.
13 Women Thrive Worldwide., 2010.
14 CARE, Mothers Matter Campaign., 2010.
15 U.S. Department of State, Human Trafficking as a Women’s Issue. Trafficking in Persons Report 2010,
Investing involves risk, including loss of principal. Asset allocation, diversification and re¬balancing do not ensure a profit or protect against risk in declining markets.
Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against a loss in declining markets. All annuity guarantees and payout rates are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. They are not backed by Merrill Lynch or its affiliates, nor do Merrill Lynch or its affiliates make any representations or guarantees regarding the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Annuities are long-term investments designed to help meet retirement needs. An annuity is a contractual agreement where a client makes payments to an insurance company, which, in turn, agrees to pay out an income stream or a lump sum amount at a later date. Early withdrawals may be subject to surrender charges, and taxed as ordinary income, and in addition, if taken prior to age 59 1/2 an additional 10% federal income tax may apply. This communication was prepared to support the promotion and marketing of annuity products. Merrill Lynch and its representatives do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. Any tax statements contained herein were not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used for the purpose of avoiding U.S. federal, state or local tax penalties. Please consult your own independent advisor as to any tax, accounting or legal statements made herein. This communication does not take into account your particular investment objectives, financial situations or needs and is not intended as a recommendation, offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security, financial instrument, or strategy. Before acting on any information in this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice. Any opinions expressed herein are given in good faith, are subject to change without notice, and are only correct as of the stated date of their issue. Merrill Lynch Wealth Management makes available products and services offered by Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated (“MLPF&S”), a registered broker-dealer and member SIPC, and other subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation (“BAC”). Investment products offered through MLPF&S and insurance and annuity products offered through Merrill Lynch Life Agency Inc.:
Are Not FDIC Insured • Are Not Bank Guaranteed • May Lose Value • Are Not Deposits • Are Not Insured by Any Federal Government Agency • Are Not a Condition to Any Banking Service or Activity• Merrill Lynch Life Agency Inc. is a licensed insurance agency and a wholly owned subsidiary of BAC.



We are giving away a $50 Amazon Gift Card every month to one of our subscribers! To enter, simply add your email address below. If you already subscribe, you will automatically be entered. Winners will be chosen randomly.

Related Posts: