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Women: Putting Their Money Where Their Values Are

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The role of women in giving and impact investing is not a new one. From the establishment of the first college scholarship fund in the U.S., to the creation of some of our nation's oldest and largest public charities, to the creation of the first social investing index, women have consistently been at the forefront of philanthropic and impact investing efforts.

The first significant instances of female-driven philanthropy are from the mid-1600s. Women gave resources as well as time to aid soldiers, widows, children, and the less fortunate and have led in charitable giving from poverty to the arts, in small and large gifts, both publicly and anonymously. Over time, and with the emergence of the term "impact investing" early in the 21st century, women have begun to lead the way in social impact investing as well. This catalytic — though historically unsung — role of women illustrates the notion that women view and often use their wealth as a means by which they can articulate and actualize their values.

Research indicates that women have a greater tendency to deploy their wealth in a values-based way.1 Studies have shown that women are more likely to give to and to give more than their respective male counterparts. Similar to philanthropy, in impact investing, women have stepped forward, with 18% of women versus only 10% of men owning an impact investment.1 Women are 33% more likely than men to say that their investments are a way to express their social, political and environmental values. Furthermore, when asked about their motivations for impact investing, women are more likely to share that they feel strongly about supporting certain issues important to them.1

Highlights of Women's Giving and Impact Investing in the U.S.

Mid-1600s:Establishment of the nation's first scholarship fund by Ann Radcliffe (at Harvard College)

Late-1800s: Establishment of the American Red Cross, one of the nation's largest disaster and emergency relief organizations, by Clara Barton

1972: Establishment of the Ms. Foundation, one of the first and largest women-focused foundations in the U.S.

1986: Female student protests at Smith College, motivated by anti-apartheid sentiment, prompt the school's divestment from South Africa

1980–90s: Early launch of sustainable, responsible and impact funds by women including Joan Bavaria, Amy Domini, Shari Berenbach and Linda Pei

Late-1900s: Proliferation of women's philanthropic networks; by 2011 there would be 160 women's funds worldwide1

Women Gaining Ground

As we look to a future of growing gains of women in various sectors — including the increased control and ownership of wealth — this tendency of women to deploy their wealth in a values-based way will become more important to corporations, nonprofits and our world at large. Over the last 50 years, our society has increasingly recognized the substantial contributions of women in the philanthropic and impact investing fields. As the stature and prominence of women, both financially and otherwise, continue to increase, women will have an even larger collective ability to make a greater impact on our world.

The economic impact of women is multidimensional. More women than ever before are making philanthropic and investment decisions, with 90% of high-net-worth women reporting that they are either the sole household or co-decision-maker with respect to charitable decisions.2 This percentage is expected to rise as women come to own and control greater amounts of wealth resulting, in part, from the growing representation of women in the workforce and their increased earning power.3 As women experience an increase in earning, spending and decision-making capacity, we expect that their values-based influence over societal wealth will continue to grow and inform the investment and philanthropic strategies for future generations.

Women's Approach to Giving and Investing

Women are motivated to engage in philanthropy and impact investing for reasons that differ in some ways from those of men. Women, for example, are highly motivated, to a greater extent than men, by their desire to effect change and create meaningful impact. For example, 73% of women would rather invest in companies that have a positive social or environmental impact than avoid investments in companies that are harmful.1 Women are also more likely to be motivated by a desire and intention to develop and pass values to the next generation. They view giving and social investing as a means by which to model ways to align and deploy their wealth in accordance with those values.

Women bring their distinct capabilities and sensibilities to their giving and investing. They are strategic in their decision-making and seek to leverage their gifts and investments in order to make the most significant difference with their assets. Women recognize the benefits of collaboration and share responsibility for the recent increased proliferation of giving and investment circles that enhance the learning, impact and enjoyment of giving and investing. In the philanthropy context, women tend to be more committed to the organizations and causes they support through volunteerism than their male counterparts which, in turn, provides greater insight that better informs their giving decisions.

The number of women who own impact investment assets has doubled from 9% two years ago to 18% today1, and there are a significant number of women who have expressed an interest in impact investing but have yet to become active. We anticipate that the number of women taking part in impact investing will increase as the aspirational gap between women expressing an interest in learning about impact investing and those that are active in impact investing closes. For some women, it may just be a matter of starting the conversation, as research indicates that high-net-worth women who have a financial advisor are more likely to have discussed impact investing with their advisor than their male counterparts.1 There may also be an opportunity for women to be the catalyst on both sides of the investment conversation, as more women are becoming financial advisors — and female advisors are more likely to be drawn to socially responsible and impact investing (59% vs. 34% of men).4 Beyond individual investment decisions, women lead the charge early in the development of socially responsible investing, and now fill socially responsible investing roles in foundations and family offices at an increasing rate.5

Women DONORS are more likely to 6

  • Give when they are moved by how their gift can make a difference
  • Give when they know the organization is efficient in its use of donations
  • Give to a wide range of charitable organizations
  • Give to organizations for which they have volunteered
  • Spend more time on due diligence when deciding to give
  • Have a strategy and/or budget for their giving
  • Expect a deeper level of communication with the organizations they support
  • Place greater importance on hearing about the impact of their gift
  • Indicate their motivations are issue-driven

Women INVESTORS are more likely to 1

  • Say they are interested in impact investments
  • Own impact investments
  • Consider impact to be important to investment decisions
  • Feel that investment decisions are a way to express their values
  • Prefer investing in companies that have a positive social or environmental impact to avoiding those that are harmful
  • Make investment decisions that support issues important to them
  • See impact investing as the ”right thing to do as a responsible citizen and investor"
  • Review their portfolios for social and environmental impact


It is encouraging to consider how women are effecting social change through their values-based wealth practices. We expect what we know about women — that, above all, they are values-driven — to continue to be reflected in the actions of women donors and investors. Women's deployment of their wealth for a higher purpose will shape the future of giving and social investing, and will continue to have a deep and resonant impact on society for years to come.

How Bank of America Private Bank Can Help You

When making wealth structuring and investment decisions, women, as well as their advisors, should consider the true purpose of the wealth and how it can be deployed to achieve that purpose.

Our Philanthropic Solutions and Impact Investing groups have a long-standing history of providing consulting and advisory services to individuals, families, foundations and corporations. For more information on how we may help you take the next step in your philanthropy and impact investing, please contact your advisor.

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