Women's philanthropy | Time, treasure, talent update

publication date: May 2, 2018
author/source: Jo-Anne Ryan

In 2014, TD Bank Group comissioned Investor Economics to do the first in-depth review of the presence and influence of female philanthropists in Canada. This report drew attention to the attitudes and methods of women philanthropists and how this impacts their approach to charitable giving. The recently related addendum shares more trends.

Income and wealth

Total income reported by Canadian women reached approximately $489 billion in 2015, compared to $421 billion in 2010. Of the approximately 840,000 Canadians reporting income in excess of $150,000, 325,000 women would likely claim to be either a dominant or equal contributor to household income.

An even higher number of Canadian women in households with over $500,000 in accumulated financial wealth – 820,000 – indicate that they are either an equal or dominant participant in financial decision making. By the end of 2026, it is expected that the share of Canadian financial wealth controlled by women will rise to 48% from 35% at 2016.

The transfer of wealth that will take place over the next two decades is unprecedented, as is the amount of liquid wealth that will be controlled and directed by Canadian women of all ages. Two asset flows – one horizontal between spouses and partners and the other vertical between generations –will result in an estimated $900 billion flowing to the bank accounts of Canadian women over the next 10 years.

The marked increase in the influence of millennial women suggests that, in the years ahead, the importance of women as financial supporters of charities will continue to rise. Charities in Canada that continue to focus on the more traditional model of male donors and female volunteers will miss the opportunity to build a caring, loyal and growing donor base.

Charitable giving

Of the $20.3 billion of total gifts in 2015, tax receipts were issued by charities for $16.5 billion, compared to $14.3 billion in 2012. Of those amounts, individual tax filers reported total donations of $9.3 billion in 2015, which represents an increase of $900 million over the $8.4 billion reported in 2012.

The percentage of tax filers reporting charitable donations has declined steadily since 2010 and reached a new low point of 20.9% in 2015, having declined from 21.8% in 2012. In addition, the absolute number of individual tax filers reporting charitable donations has fallen from 5.8 million in 2012 to 5.5 million in 2015.

Time, Treasure, Talent: Canadian Women and Philanthropy

The total number of female tax filers reporting charitable donations fell from 2.7 million in 2012 to 2.6 million in 2015, a modest reduction, although one that is still concerning given that the number of women reporting employment income rose by 89,000 during the period.

Women gained share in terms of total donors from 46.2% in 2012 to 47.3% three years later. Also in terms of share, the value of donations reported by female tax filers represented 36.9% in 2015, an improvement of two percentage points over the share reported in 2012. The average total charitable donation amount reported by female tax filers increased by almost $1,000 between 2012 and 2015, while the average increase reported by male donors was approximately $260 over the same period.

Women donors in their 50s were found to be the most likely to donate, although they were not the most generous in terms of the average amount they donated. Specifically, the average donation of the 484,000 female donors in their 60s was $1,498, or 17.5% higher, than the 559,100 donors in their 50s.

Although some of the trends give rise to concern, the overall evidence indicates that women continue to represent a growing and influential force to be harnessed by the charitable sector.

Planned giving

It is likely the case that the share of total revenue earned by Canadian charities revenue from planned giving in Canada will be lower than 8%. It has been estimated that gifts made through a will make up 80% - 90% of all planned gifts.

On average, 9% of adults over the age of 50 planned to leave a bequest to at least one charity. The reality is that only about half that number actually make a gift through their estates. Individuals most likely to include a charitable bequest in their wills were women in the later stages of their lives, many of them widowed.

Planned giving through charitable wills is set to increase, however, partially through the rising wealth of women and partially through the fact that the baby-boomer generation, which we define as Canadian individuals between 53 and 71 years of age as of 2017, has collectively reached an age when estate planning has become a financial priority.

Despite the fact that the percentage of individuals making bequests through their estates represents at least half that of individuals who will give during their lifetime, it is possible that, at a minimum, Canadian charities will receive approximately $15.5 billion in bequests between 2016 and 2026.


The majority of employees in the charitable sector are female. Notwithstanding the assertion fact that the not-for-profit sector should be a model for the for-profit sector, and that many charities deal with issues directly associated with women, less than half of the board seats at Canadian charities are at present occupied by women. It is also the case that men are frequently selected to lead the largest charities.

Charities must see improving the gender balance at the board and management levels as an immediate priority if they are to convince grant makers that they reflect the communities which they claim to serve.

The argument that there too few women with the qualifications to serve on charity boards and in leadership positions is failing to resonate, as more and more women attend and pass the Institute of Corporate Directors’ not-for-profit program, and the majority of applicants to Carleton University’s Master of Philanthropy of Nonprofit Leadership program are women.

Other findings

The various research studies cited in this report (see reference) that provided the underpinnings of this addendum report also pointed to the fact that women are more likely to be driven by issues than men, and that women have a higher level of confidence in the ability of the charitable sector to deal and resolve various social issues than they have in either government or the commercial sectors to provide solutions.

Given this level of confidence in the sector, it is not surprising that women are likely to encourage other women, particularly members of their immediate family, to both participate in and to support the efforts of the charitable sector.

All of these points indicate that women are a key demographic that fundraisers should be including in their strategies. However, 40% of women working at major charities say there is less of an emphasis on soliciting gifts from women, and only 33% of women working at major charities believe that wealthy female donors are given the same respect as their male counterparts.

Even though women tend to be left out of institutional philanthropy, this doesn’t stop them from getting involved. Giving circles are becoming increasingly popular, especially among women. In a study in the United States on Giving Circles, Women made up more than half the group for 70% of the circles. In the United States, giving circles have engaged at least 150,000 donors, and have contributed $1.29 billion to philanthropy. The number of circles at the time of the report in 2017 has tripled from 2007.

Jo-Anne Ryan is Vice President, Philanthropic Advisory Services at TD Wealth, Executive Director and architect of the Private Giving Foundation (PGF). She is a recipient of the "Friend of CAGP Award" which was awarded to her for her significant contribution to gift planning in Canada. She is a member of the advisory board of the only Masters in Philanthropy and Non-profit leadership program at Carleton University in Philanthropy and Non-profit leadership program at Carleton University.

The full 2014 Time Talent and Treasure report on women donors and the two addenda can be found here.  

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