March 3, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 98—Women donors, and racial trust

The American poet Ambrose Bierce wrote in 1906 that a philanthropist is a rich old gentleman who has trained himself to grin while his conscience is picking his pocket. This satirical description may have resonated at the time, but it no longer rings true today. In fact, major donors, people who give away massive sums of money, are becoming more diverse. More are women and 50 years old or younger. Tessa Skidmore and Charles Sellen, of the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, say that women overall are more likely to give, and give more, than men, and that these differences can be seen in a variety of ways. They say gender differences in giving are especially notable among single women and single men. Holding factors like income and wealth constant, about 51% of single women indicated they would give to charity, compared with 41% of single men. Additionally, women are also more likely than men to give to charity as their income rises. For instance, MacKenzie Scott donated $5.7 million in 2020, more than any other American except for her ex-husband, Jeff Bezos. And other rich American women are challenging traditional notions of who can be a philanthropist. Scott is among nearly a dozen single female billionaires who have signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment to give more than half of their fortune to charity during their lifetime or after their deaths. The IUPUI researchers say married women of means are also among today’s most prominent philanthropists. It’s become more common among the world’s richest couples for women to be equal partners in decisions about charitable giving and to champion causes of their own, like gender equality and criminal justice reform, they say. But no one needs to be wealthy to be charitable.. And women, whether they’re rich, poor or somewhere in between, are perhaps more likely than men to think about giving in broad terms, participating in a variety of charitable activities. During crises and otherwise, women seem especially likely to give by volunteering their time and talents, in addition to donating money to support causes they care about. Women are also likely to contribute in other ways, such as providing their own testimony by engaging in advocacy and leveraging their social networks on behalf of these causes. Research also shows that women prefer collective giving and give far more money online than men. Skidmore and Sellen say one reason women are able to give more money away today is that they have more of it. The total amount of wealth owned by women around the world could total $81 trillion in 2023, by one estimate, up from $34 trillion in 2010. So, contrary to the stereotype, givers don’t need to be wealthy or male to be philanthropists.

In other news, a new report from the Center for Postsecondary Research at IU found that Black undergraduates trust their colleges significantly less than their white peers, and that the pandemic caused a slight drop in trust in administrators among all students. Research Scientist Kevin Fosnacht, who co-authored the study, says the college trust gap between Black and white students was particularly large. And there was an even larger gap between Black and white students’ regarding their trust in individuals who are of different races than themselves. The report is based on about 8,350 undergraduate responses to the 2020 National Survey of Student Engagement. The undergraduates were asked questions related to their trust in their college overall and in specific leaders and stakeholders at their institutions. Researchers say the findings about Black students’ lack of trust speaks to the alienation and lack of sense of belonging historically felt by students of color at colleges. Despite many administrators creating initiatives, offices and policies directed at improving diversity, equity and inclusion in recent years, students of color continue to distrust college leaders, researchers say. The report also focused on the varying levels of trust that first-year students had for specific types of college staff members. It found that across all racial groups, students expressed the most trust for faculty members and academic advisers, while college presidents, provosts, deans, board members and other leaders face the largest legitimacy crisis among college personnel types. Researchers say this trust crisis can be explained by the power differentials and power dynamics that exist between college leaders and students. Oftentimes students feel absent from decision making and devalued by leaders, which, naturally, can reduce trust levels. Researchers say the trust factor could be improved by faculty members and support staff members fostering better relationships with students and making them feel comfortable about reaching out for support and letting them know that their goals and abilities will be encouraged and validated. The report also considered the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students' views and experiences, which put college leaders’ decisions and regard for student health and well-being under a microscope during 2020. Students who completed the survey after the campus shutdowns expressed slightly higher levels of trust in their colleges over all but slightly lower levels of trust for college leadership specifically, compared to students who responded to the survey before the disruption. About 73 percent of students surveyed after the disruption said that they trusted their college leaders “completely” or “somewhat,” compared to about 79 percent of students before the pandemic.