Single Tight Female – Why Some Demographic Groups Don’t Give to Charity


On the prized-possessions shelf in the home I share with my husband is a copy of the San Francisco Public Press which includes a thank you for what was our first charitable donation as a married couple. In 10pt font, on a back page, there we are: Mr and Mrs McAwesome.

Being a civic-minded pair, the McAwesomes contribute to a few select organizations in money and in kind. We don’t have a lot of money but we do what we can. According to the research, that puts us on the right side of average. Married couples tend to give more than single people, as do households where women take an equal or greater role in their financial affairs.

There is definitive research that shows women out-give men in almost every demographic category. Compared with their otherwise equivalent male counterparts, single women are 3.9% more likely to give, and divorced or separated women are nearly 10% more likely. The only category where men are more likely to give than women is the widower category, which probably says less about nice old men than it does about our criminally shitful treatment of widows and their ensuing poverty.

Some very interesting new research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute has found that the sex of your child has a huge impact on your household propensity to give: If you have two or more children and your first is a boy, you are more likely to give to charity (educational and youth/family services especially) and you’ll give about 14.3% more than if your first-born was a girl. If, however, you only have one child and it’s a girl, you’re more likely to give (to educational and basic needs services) and the cash you’ll stump up is 20.3% more than if you had a single boy. So just having women in the household – even ones that contribute nothing to the finances and drink milk straight out of the bottle – has a big impact on charitable giving.

What I find fascinating is that women out-give men while earning 21c in the dollar less across the board. Women are also more likely to financially support other family members and, on balance, feel more vulnerable about their ability to support themselves and loved ones into retirement. So women have less but donate more? What gives?

Conventional wisdom holds that people give more when they have more. This turns out, like much conventional wisdom, to be poppycock.

There is, in fact, a pronounced U-shape to giving as a percentage of earnings – with the $10m+ rich kids leading at 5.9%, thank goodness, but those earning under $45,000 comprising the second highest split, at 4%. So poor and middle-class households are actually giving more, as a percentage of income. The National Center for Charitable Statistics has the full breakdown by earnings:


What’s more, a Chronicle of Philanthropy investigation of IRS data found that the trend is deepening, with top earners giving less and the rest of us picking up the slack.

The wealthiest Americans – those who earned $200,000 or more – reduced the share of income they gave to charity by 4.6 percent from 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, Americans who earned less than $100,000 chipped in 4.5 percent more of their income during the same time period. Middle- and lower-income Americans increased the share of income they donated to charity, even as they earned less, on average, than they did six years earlier.

As my darling friend Bel would say: “Ain’t that a bullshit sandwich?”

Apart from being annoying to those of us at the generous bottom end of that bell curve, what does this mean for nonprofits? It means we need to adapt, and there are few signs we are doing that so far. Large nonprofits are accustomed to earning 60% of their book from their top 10% or donors and are failing to consider these demographic giving patterns, new technologies like mobile giving and emerging peer-to-peer models. The 30 top peer-to-peer fundraiser organizations earned $13-$308m last year, which is a tiny slice of the about $358 billion collected by U.S. charities each year.


The just-released M+R Benchmarks Report shows that the number of gifts are going up while donation size is going down in most fields. If we fail to democratize our giving programs and reach out to more donors for smaller amounts, we will lag behind technology and policy where it matters most: the continued operation of our organizations.

If all else fails, nonprofits can always reach out to residents of the Californian town of Canby, in the northeast of the state, whose residents are the most generous in the country. The median gift of Canbians is a whopping 18.74 per cent of their income! The small population size might have skewed the figures somewhat but hey, it’ll be a nice drive out there to find out!


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