Having trouble finding common ground with your spouse when it comes to charitable giving? You are not alone. Giving together should draw us closer. Unfortunately, in some cases disagreements between spouses can result in a philanthropic stalemate.

Recent data from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy suggest that many of these issues are the result of fundamental differences in the way men and women approach philanthropy.

Key findings of the study are:

  • Women-only households and married couples give at a higher rate than male-only households.
  • Charitable giving by women is more consistent than men.
  • Women are far more likely to give to a variety of causes in smaller amounts.
  • Men tend to give in larger amounts to a smaller number of charities.
  • Women are much more likely to volunteer than men.
  • Men are much more likely to give appreciated assets, while women tend to give cash.

Couples often postpone or curtail their giving just to avoid conflict. Charities go underfunded and well-meaning couples miss out on the satisfaction, significance and financial benefits of giving. Everyone loses.

Is it really about gender?

The experience at our firm suggests these charitable differences don’t necessarily coincide with gender. Sometimes the roles are completely reversed. As opposed to gender differences, we have found one spouse more often prioritizes the mission side of philanthropy, while the other values the more structural elements of giving. Opposites attract in terms of charitable preferences.

While these differences can be a source of conflict and misunderstanding, they don’t have to be. In fact, this combination of style and motivation can be a huge advantage when channeled properly.

Achieve more by appreciating your differences

Helping each spouse appreciate the motivation and giving style of their partner is a huge part of successful charitable planning.

The first step is to develop a charitable mission statement together that describes not only the causes you wish to support but also the motivation behind it. Developing a mission statement brings you together to find common ground and pursue shared passions.

Mission-motivated partners typically find this phase of the process very encouraging and almost second nature. Structure-oriented partners often struggle with this part of the process, but with patience, collaboration – and sometimes a third-party – the couple takes one step closer to reaching their full philanthropic potential.

Shifting to the next step, developing a giving implementation plan enlivens structure-oriented partners. This step focuses on structuring your gifts to maximize the financial benefits.

Engaging both partners in process that addresses each of their unique needs results in a lasting solution where causes are consistently funded and financial benefits are maximized. Everyone wins.

Beware of philanthropy game-changer

Don’t mistake current charitable harmony for permanent charitable harmony. Often times, fundamental giving differences don’t show up until a change in circumstance. It’s common for couples at or near retirement to experience a charitable disconnect. What seems like a new and frustrating dynamic is not. Ironically, couples can pursue conflicting charitable strategies for long periods of time without even knowing it!

Whether you and your partner are currently in sync or in conflict, developing shared charitable mission statements should be on everyone’s philanthropy to-do list.


To build a charitable mission statement and giving implementation plan that transitions seamlessly into retirement, visit our post on Building a Charitable Mission Statement.

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