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Women Billionaires Are Making Their Mark in Philanthropy

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Women billionaires are making their mark in philanthropy, changing decades-old perceptions about who gives money to charities.

Over the past few years, MacKenzie Scott has stunned the world of philanthropy and charitable giving. After her divorce in 2019, she received a 4% stake in Amazon. Subsequently, the share price surged in 2020, and MacKenzie Scott’s net worth exceeded $66 billion, making her the richest woman in the world.

Women Billionaires Are Making Their Mark in Philanthropy
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MacKenzie Scott Sets the Pace

Over the next two years, she gave $12.5+ billion to over 1,200 charities, changing perceptions. According to Chuck Collins, the director of the Charity of Reform Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies,

“he couldn’t think of anyone who had given more this year.” He told the New York Times, “She’s disrupting the norms around billionaire philanthropy by moving quickly…”

MacKenzie Scott is probably not done giving away her fortune. Besides her, many women billionaires are donating substantial wealth. Traditionally, many wealthy held onto their money and gave small percentages away. But this generation of women billionaires is changing the norm.

Women Are More Likely to Donate to Charities

Studies about charitable giving have shown women are more likely to donate than men. Additionally, they are more likely to contribute larger amounts than men.

report from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) asked, “Do women give more?” The answer is yes. The study showed that about 51% of single women would donate to charity versus ~41% of single men. Moreover, as women’s income rises, they are more likely to contribute to charities.

Research from the same organization shows similar results in families. Homes with a female head of household are more likely to give regardless of income level. For example, at lower income levels, the probability of giving is higher when the head of household is female than with a male head. Moreover, as family incomes rise, the likelihood of giving increases, and the disparity between the female and male heads of household families widens.

Other studies often point to the same differences between men and women.

Other Women Billionaires Making an Impact

According to the Forbes 2023 list of billionaires, the number of ultra-high-net-worth women is about 13% of the 2,640 people on the list. The number rose to 337 from 327 in 2022 and continues to trend up.

The Giving Pledge Campaign

Besides MacKenzie Scott, many of these women billionaires are making an impact by donating to charities. For instance, nearly a dozen individual women have signed the Giving Pledge campaign, created by uber-billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. According to the website,

“The Giving Pledge is a promise by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.”

The goal is to give way at least half of their wealth toward philanthropy during their lifetime or when they pass away.

Some other women on the list include Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, worth $1.1. billion; Dagmar Dolby of Dolby Laboratories, worth $4.5 billion; Judy Faulkner, the founder of Epic Systems, worth $7.1 billion; and Melinda Gates, ex-wife of Bill Gates, worth $6.5 billion. Besides them, many couples have jointly signed up for the Giving Pledge.


Already Contributing Billions

The donations are substantial. Ms. Scott has given so much money her fortune dropped to about $30 billion, still an enormous amount of money. However, she is now ranked number 60 on the Forbes Billionaires list.

In another example, J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, dropped off the billionaires’ list to the millionaires’ list partially because of her charitable giving through her trust to aid women and children and to combat poverty and social inequality.

Reasons for Donating

The rich are motivated by varying reasons for donating part or all their wealth. Surveys from roughly 200 individuals and couples signed up for the Giving Pledge indicate the top five reasons are making a difference, desire to give back, personal benefits experienced, upbringing, and noblesse oblige. But the number one reason was to make a difference.

Although men and women may have a similar high-level motivation, the actual reasons and implementation may differ. Debra Mesch, the Director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, wrote in the Wall Street Journal,

“A 2013 U.S. Trust survey on women and wealth found that women are nearly twice as likely as men to say that giving to charity is the most satisfying aspect of having wealth.” Moreover, she says, “…women tend to give to promote social change or help others who are less fortunate.”

New Types of Charities Are Benefitting

Consequently, some types of charities are now benefitting. Historically, they may have been ignored or received much smaller donations. MacKenzie Scott is giving away unconditional grants focusing on early childhood education and care crises, two categories that receive less money than higher education.

A similar trend is occurring internationally. In Japan, Yoshiko Shinohara, the country’s first self-made women billionaire, donated $140 million to fund scholarships for students desiring to become nurses, social workers, and day-care staff. Similarly, in Australia, Melanie Perkins, the multibillionaire CEO and founder of Canva, is giving hundreds of millions allocated to economic mobility, public health, gender equity, etc.

Rising Wealth Will Mean More Philanthropy

As wealth rises, women and men are more likely to donate and give significant amounts. The wealth of women billionaires is increasing rapidly. As a result, they are now making their mark on philanthropy, changing the scope and direction of charitable giving.

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