Women and Charitable Giving

Women generally donate more than men, and their donations are set to rise as they inherit more wealth

Journal of Financial Planning: December 2022


Alexandra Armstrong, CFP®, CRPC, is founder and chairman emeritus of Armstrong, Fleming and Moore, Inc. She was one of the first female CFP® practitioners in the United States, as well as the first female president of the IAFP (precursor to FPA). She founded her financial planning firm in 1983 in Washington, D.C. Since then, she has focused on helping women achieve financial independence. She is the coauthor of Your Next Chapter: A Woman’s Guide to a Successful Retirement and On Your Own: A Widow’s Passage to Emotional and Financial Well-Being.


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In doing research for this article, I came across what was for me a revelation. According to a February 2021 article by authors at the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, women are more likely to give to charity across income levels and generations than male counterparts.1

Specifically, in a 2015 study of single women and men age 50 and older, 51 percent of single women donated to charities versus 41 percent of single men, Tessa Skidmore and Charles Sellen wrote for The Conversation. The same study indicated that women were more likely to give as their income rises. It makes sense that single women might be generous to charities since they may not have children of their own to inherit their money. But why do they give more than their single male counterparts?

In the past, charitable donations in the United States were dominated by male wealth accumulators and decision makers. In more recent years, that has changed with women becoming more prominent donors. We have all read about Mackenzie Scott, Jeff Bezos’s former wife, who gave $5.7 billion in 2020. She is not an isolated example. It is not only widows or divorcees giving away money. Wealthy married women are also notable philanthropists, according to Skidmore and Sellen. And this trend is not confined to the United States; it is a global trend.

As financial planners, we should be aware of our female clients’ attitudes toward charity. Observing my older women clients, I noticed that as they age, they seem more willing to give to charity. My theory is that as they shake off the female fear of becoming a bag lady and realize they have enough to live on comfortably for the rest of their lives, many examine the legacies they want to leave.

As planners, we have access to our clients’ tax returns and can check what charitable giving they have done in the past. We also know what capital gains exposure they might have in a given year. Educating our clients as to tax advantages of charitable giving is key. While taxes may not be the primary motivation, pointing out how they can benefit the charity as well as themselves can motivate clients to give more.

The Tax Rules

The standard tax deduction for 2022 married filing jointly is $25,900 plus $2,800 if both spouses are over 65. For a single person, it is $12,950 plus $1,400 if over age 65. This means that not everyone itemizes. However, the higher your clients’ income, the more likely they are to itemize.

In any one year, clients are limited to donating cash, which is 60 percent or less of adjusted gross income (AGI). For appreciated securities, they can only deduct those that are 30 percent or less of AGI. However, they can carry over any excess incurred in one year to future years.

Tax-Savvy Ways to Give to Charity

Cash is the easiest way to give money to charity, but if your client owns appreciated securities, this is a more tax-efficient way. For someone who is having difficulty achieving deductions more than the standard deduction, you can advise her to lump her donations—doubling up donations in one year and not giving the next year.

In recent years, the donor-advised fund (DAF) has gained popularity and for good reason. Your client can donate cash or appreciated securities to the donor-advised fund, claim an immediate tax deduction, and decide which charities to give the money to now or in the future. Eligible securities that can be donated to a DAF are appreciated stocks, mutual funds, cash, or non-publicly traded assets such as private business interests, cryptocurrency, and private company stock.

For your clients who are required to take required minimum distributions (RMD) from their IRA accounts, the qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is a useful tool. While the SECURE ACT passed in 2019 increased the required minimum distribution age to 72, it kept the QCD distribution age at 70.5 years. This means that if your client was born before July 1, 1951, they can direct up to $100,000 annually from their retirement accounts to qualified charities, thus reducing their taxable income. Make sure that the payment from the IRA account is made directly to the charity to qualify.

For clients with considerable wealth, a charitable remainder trust (CRT) is another solution. Here they can put appreciated securities into a CRT, sell the assets, and invest to provide lifetime income to herself and someone else (if she so desires). When lifetime income beneficiaries die, the remaining corpus goes to designated charities. With a CRT, the client receives a partial tax deduction based on the terms of the trust. I say “considerable wealth” because your client has to pay to set up the legal instrument and file an annual tax return for the CRT. A variation on the theme is the charitable lead trust where the charity gets the income for a certain period of time, and then the corpus reverts to the donor.

Estate Planning

If the client is hesitant about giving money while still alive, they can do so as part of their estate plan. Here again, one approach could be particularly attractive to single women with no heirs who have an IRA.

Under current tax laws, if she leaves her IRA to anyone other than her spouse, that person must withdraw the money, which is taxable to them, within 10 years of her death. If your client has money of her own as well as IRA money, she can avoid this consequence by designating that the IRA custodian give the IRA money to charities and the rest of her inheritance to her designated heirs, thus avoiding this tax trap for her heirs.

However, as a practical matter, in our practice we have learned that not all IRA custodians are great about implementing the transfer to charities from an IRA account. We have found it to be more efficient to establish a donor-advised fund, which has designated beneficiaries for when the donor dies. Then she can make that donor-advised fund the beneficiary of her IRA, and the custodian of the donor-advised fund makes the distributions. The client can change the charitable beneficiaries at any time prior to her death.

New Trends in Philanthropy

According to Philanthropy Together, women show a preference for collaborative “giving circles.” In these circles, the donors pool their money and decide together how to give to charities. Today, there are more than 2,500 of these giving circles. And it is a global trend.

According to a 2016 report by the Collective Giving Research Group, 70 percent of these giving circles are controlled by women.2 In fact, 56 percent comprise only women. It occurs to me that this creates an opportunity for financial planners, particularly female planners. You might consider organizing a giving circle with your clients or friends. For more information about giving circles and how to start one, visit https://philanthropytogether.org.

For example, in Sarasota, Florida, in 2018, a group of women got together and formed Impact100 SRQ, a chapter of the global group Impact100. It started with 100 women giving $1,000 each year. Annually, they take the money they have collected and give grants to charities that they jointly select. In the 2022 giving year, Impact100 SRQ raised $623,000—a lot of progress in four short years! For more information on this organization, visit https://impact100global.org.

Why and How Women Give

One reason women are giving to charity is they are getting wealthier and thus have more money to give! According to a McKinsey article published on July 29, 2020, women control a third of total U.S. household assets, or more than $10 trillion. By 2030, women are projected to control much of the $30 trillion baby boomers will possess.3


During the past two years, we have witnessed the devastating impact of COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and natural disasters like wildfires and Hurricane Ian. I think these events have made us all more aware of the needs of those who are adversely affected by events beyond their control.

Rather than being passive observers, I think we as planners should be more proactive by bringing up the topic of charitable planning with our clients and showing them different ways they can help those who are less fortunate than themselves.

Finally, as a board member of the Foundation for Financial Planning, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our Foundation—your Foundation. This organization’s mission is to help the underserved gain control of their financial lives with the assistance of pro bono financial planners. As a planner, you can volunteer your time to help people or give money to facilitate our work throughout the country. For more information, visit www.ffpprobono.org

Disclosure: The Foundation for Financial Planning is a strategic partner of the Financial Planning Association.


  1. Skidmore, Tessa, and Charles Sellen. 2021, February 25. “Giving While Female: Women Are More Likely to Donate to Charities Than Men of Equal Means.” The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/giving-while-female-women-are-more-likely-to-donate-to-charities-than-men-of-equal-means-141518.  
  2. Bearman, Jessica, Julia Carboni, Angela Eikenberry, and Jason Franklin. 2016. “The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups in the U.S.” Collective Giving Research Group. https://johnsoncenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Giving-Circles-Research-Full-Report-WEB.pdf.
  3. Bahai, Pooneh, Olivia Howard, Lakshmi Prakash, and Jill Zucker. 2020, July 29. “Women as the Next Wave of Growth in US Wealth Management.” McKinsey & Company. www.mckinsey.com/industries/financial-services/our-insights/women-as-the-next-wave-of-growth-in-us-wealth-management.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Tax Planning