Kristen Barnes

Kristen Bealle

Women have made charitable planned gifts in America since the 1600s.

Abigail Lippincott was one of the earliest women to establish a planned gift for her heirs, outlining her bequest on March 16, 1697. The bequest of property and money is noteworthy from two standpoints: First, most women prior to that time, and up until the 1900s, did not have estates that could be passed to heirs. Typically, men passed their estates to their male children with the expectation the child or children would look after their mother. Second, the Lippincott estate was quite sizable for its time, even for most men.

Successful English and Scottish philanthropic organizations became models for Americans in the 1800s, emphasizing self-help and training for poor individuals. By the 1830s, volunteerism was flourishing among American women and men with a focus on community and church work.

Philanthropy among women became one in which the act of giving became a badge of citizenship and empowered women at a time when they were otherwise disenfranchised. Engaging in philanthropy became an appropriate form of investment activity for women. Indeed, it became a mark of a woman’s respectability.

Fast-forward 200 years and the playing field for female philanthropists has grown considerably, fueled by a massive transfer of wealth. Forty-five percent of American millionaires are now women and women control 48 percent of estates worth more than $5 million. By 2030, researchers estimate that as much as two-thirds of all wealth in the United States will be controlled by women.

Names like Gates, Chan Zuckerberg, Anschutz- Rodgers, Duke, Bass, Buffet, Winfrey, Dell, Walton and Kroc are recognized for their considerable wealth and philanthropic influence.

Whether they inherit, earn or marry money, women are becoming a powerful financial force. In recent years, studies have dispelled myths about women and charitable giving. Researchers have found that in almost every income bracket, women give more than men. According to one recent study, American households headed by single females give 57 percent more than those headed by single males.

Women are living longer, making more money and may be inheriting twice – once from their parents and again if they outlive their spouses.

Women also donate differently than men. Male clients tend to favor charitable contributions for their tax advantages, while female donors give largely because they want to help others.

Men may direct their money to one institution – like an alma mater – but women tend to spread their wealth around and contribute to many different causes and they are increasingly looking at money as a way to change society for the better.

Ready to consider your future as a philanthropist?

First and foremost educate yourself – take advantage of seminars on investing, estate and basic financial planning. Periodically review options with a financial planner to ensure you are saving enough during your career, take advantage of employer and individual savings plans, and utilize multiple investments. Discuss philanthropy with other women and, most importantly, think about the change you want to make.

Since the 1600s, American women have flexed their philanthropic muscles with an eye toward spiritual compassion and enhancing society. Those values continue to flourish as more women engage in philanthropic activities as volunteers, donors and fundraisers. 

Kristen Beall, Ed.D., is the president and CEO of Kern Community Foundation. Contact her at or 616-2601. The views expressed in this column are her own.

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