After I wrote my last blog voicing my concerns that the social sector is missing an opportunity because women are not fully engaged in philanthropy, I had to wonder how big this problem this really is. In an age when women are receiving more advanced degrees than men, leading companies and organizations, and even running for president; perhaps, what I was noticing was really just a few individuals rather than a massive problem. Really, what is the extent of this problem?

To answer this question, looked at grantmaking data that is complied each year, by the Chronicle of Philanthropy of U.S. grants that are over $1M. The data set is by no means comprehensive; it requires organizations to self-report the grants, but it represents an excellent sample of many of the largest philanthropic gifts in America. According to the Chronical of Philanthropy’s data, there were 850 grants of $1M or over in 2014, representing $10.6B in grants.

I wanted to understand how many of these grants were given by women, so I simply went through the donor list and categorized the donors by gender. I also included an option for family giving and anonymous gifts. What I found was stunning; it turns out that women give far far fewer large grants than men both in $ amounts and in the total number of gifts. Of the $10.6B in major gifts last year, only 4% ($432M), was attributable to female donors. By comparison, 47% ($4.9B) could be attributed to a male giver, 40% ($4.3B) was attributable to a family, and 9% ($963M) was given anonymously. The figure below summarizes these findings.

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 11.18.39 PM

The discrepancy is between male and female giving is shocking. Some of the gender gap may be attributable to dataset itself, which might just have oversampled male giving, or women might be more likely to attribute their gifts to their family rather than their own name. Even if these data issues are true, the descrepency between male and female giving is so large that there is clearing something more pronounced happening. So what is it? Why are men so much more likely to make large philanthropic gifts while women seem to be almost missing in this space? While the data doesn’t give us answers, I do have a hypothesis.

Philanthropy is heavily tied to the financial literacy and financial empowerment of women. Unfortunately, while women are in control of their finances more than ever before, they still face considerable challenges when making financial decisions. A large study by Prudential found that while an increasing number of women are income generators, only 27% of married women say the “take control” of financial and retirement planning. Another study by Financial Finesse concluded that women are falling further behind in two key areas: money management, which is the foundation of all financial planning, and investing, which is crucial to women being able to build wealth. While it is difficult to make sweeping generalizations across and entire gender, I believe women frequently do not feel empowered to speak up and often back down because they feel less knowledgeable about investments and financial decisions than the men in their lives. I see this and hear about this dynamic playing out more often than not among my clients, colleagues and friends. I also believe this to be true across all age groups, not just among older generations.

Conversations around philanthropy are highly related to the financial picture of an individual or family so when women do not engage in financial planning discussions they also then step away from philanthropic decision making. Men seem to be giving big while women give small. Women appear more likely to manage a smaller pot of money within a family and then spread their wealth among a smattering of organizations. Men are more often the decision makers when it comes to big gifts and then divide it among fewer organizations.

In order to engage more women in philanthropy in a big way, I believe women need to feel more empowered around their personal finances and their role as philanthropists. Women are quickly acquiring wealth as breadwinners and through the massive wealth transfer that is underway in our society, but unless we engage them more fully in financial conversations, philanthropy and the social sector will continue to lose their incredible skills and knowledge.