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Surprise Findings on Gender, Religion in Philanthropy

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The trend of declining religious affiliation in the U.S., especially among younger donors, is not necessarily a bad omen for nonprofit organizations, according to a recent study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

The Women Give 2014 study investigated how the intersection of religiosity, gender and age were related to charitable giving.

According to the institute, previous research had shown that for both genders, those engaged in religion were likelier to give and to give more to charity than those reporting no religious affiliation.

The new research identified an important shift from the standard religiosity-giving story. Young single women who were religiously unaffiliated—referred to as “Nones”—gave approximately two times larger amounts to charitable organizations than women who were affiliated but infrequently attend religious services.

The study encompassed 762 people divided into two categories by age—44 years old and younger and 45 years old and older—and divided by gender.

The study also found the following regarding younger single women who were not affiliated with a religion:

  • Their gifts to not-religiously identified charities were about two times larger than their gifts to religiously identified ones
  • Their gifts to charity were twice as large as those of their non-affiliated younger male counterparts
  • Their gifts to all charitable organizations (both religiously identified and not so identified) were two-and-a-half times larger than those of non-affiliated middle-age and older women

The study noted the possibility that today’s older women may have given generously when they were younger, suggesting that non-religiously identified charities should maintain relationships with Millennials and Gen Xers as they age.

In addition, it said, religiously identified nonprofits may face problem in the future as the trend toward less affiliation is expected to continue. A possibility exists that younger women who are increasingly entering adulthood as Nones will focus their philanthropy on non-religiously identified groups.

According to the institute, nuanced fundraising strategies by nonprofits focused on both women and men demonstrating that their goals and approaches are relevant to those different audiences will help ensure that resources continue to flow into their coffers.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: U.S. Charitable Giving Will Grow by 4.8% in 2015: Study