What will it take for Americans to think of the words “women” and philanthropy” in the same sentence?

Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University will help set the record straight. The study, Women Give 2010, revealed that women at almost all income levels are more likely to give to charity than men and give more money on average than men.

“One of our missions at the institute is that by women hearing these kinds of studies they will think ‘Wow, I can be a philanthropist’,” said Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute in a phone conversation last week. “Individual donors know how much they give. But they don’t usually have the opportunity to see the big picture. This kind of research can be very powerful for women.”

Women Give 2010 is the first report to compare philanthropic giving between men and women across all income levels from $23,000 to $100,000 a year. Women Give 2010 analyzed only giving by households headed by single people in order to examine gender differences, with researchers controlling for factors that affect philanthropic behavior such as income, age, race, education, number of children, and more, so differences between men and women could be compared.

The findings- that it’s not only wealthier women who are giving- is surprising. “Women across nearly every income category give significantly more than their male counterparts – in many cases, nearly twice as much,” she said. The most significant differences, the study found, are in the lowest, middle, and highest brackets where women give almost double the amount of men. The inconsistency is in the second lowest income bracket -$23,509 to $43,500, where women give 32% less than men.

In the ultra high net worth segment, which was not included in the Women Give 2010 study, Cynthia A. Conway has seen a shift in women’s giving. Conway, vice president and director of marketing at Wilmington Trust Corporation, led a study, which surveyed ultra high net worth women between 45 and 65 who had at least $25 million in investible assets and had children. Conway saw three driving forces behind the trend in affluent women and charitable giving: women are now being included in inheritances, not just brothers and husbands; women outlive their husbands by about seven years; and women are earning their own wealth. 

“Because of the inclusive and holistic nature of women in their personal life, professional life and family life the fact that women are giving more doesn’t surprise me,” Conway said, in a recent phone conversation.

Giving in churches and other religious establishments has always been about women, said Chris Grumm, CEO of the Women’s Funding Network. “Churches are overwhelmingly women and women at lower income levels and the lower the income usually means the higher the giving.”

Yet Grumm has seen giving at the higher end of the wealth spectrum as well through the Women Moving Millions campaign run through the Women’s Funding Network. In 2009 Women Moving Millions beat their $150 million fundraising goal by $30 million.“Women at the higher end are really upping their gifts and using their philanthropy to reflect their values and to promote social change,” she said.

Mesch said the Women Give 2010 findings have the potential to affect both donors and charities:“Nonprofits may see this as a reminder to pay closer attention to the philanthropic power of women and the importance of developing fundraising strategies that will appeal to their priorities.”