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Could Impact Investing Replace Charitable Giving?

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A new study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute finds that both men and women embrace impact investing as a means of achieving social and financial returns. However, gender differences exist in how they approach impacting investing.

When men make the philanthropic decisions in their households — either as single men or as sole deciders in their marriages or partnerships — they are likelier to replace charitable giving with impact investing than single women or couples in which the decisions are made jointly or the woman is the sole decider.

The research, which was funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, further showed that four out of five men and women were aware of impact investing, but women were likelier to want to learn more about it. Women were also more likely to make impact investments in tandem with their charitable giving rather than replace the one with the other.

“The rise of impact investing demonstrates a growing enthusiasm for social change, but also raises concerns about the displacement of traditional charitable donations,” Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, said in a statement.

The study adhered to Global Impact Investing Network’s broad definition of impact investing: “investment made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.” Data analyzed in the report came from the Bank of America/U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy series.

According to the study, impact investors are younger, with 42.7% in the millennial and Gen X age groups, 35.1% baby boomers and 22.9% older people. Among the youngest group, men participated in impact investing at a higher rate than women, but the reverse was true among the boomer set. No gender differences existed in the oldest group.

Impact investors are also better educated, with 36.2% having at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 22.6% who have only a high school degree or less.

And they are wealthier, 43.4% with household incomes of $500,000 or more, versus 30.1% of those with incomes of less than $200,000.

Women and men are equally likely to participate in impact investing, but the research found gender differences for specific groups.

In the lowest income bracket, men and women were equally likely to participate in impact investing, while for the upper income brackets, women were likelier than men to do so. The biggest difference appeared in the $200,000 to $500,000 range: 39.3% of women versus 33.4% of men.

The study looked at sectors that are likeliest to be hit by replacement of charitable gifts with impact investing. It found that those who make impact investments are most strongly associated with bigger charitable donations to combination organizations, such as United Way; youth and family services; arts and culture; international; and environment or animal causes.

People who use impact investments in place of some or all of their charitable giving are associated with greater giving levels to religion, health and animal causes.

In addition, the data showed that people who cited climate change, human rights or race relations issues were more likely to participate in impact investing, while those who said the economy/federal deficit or terrorism were important issues to them were less likely to do so.

The report cited several points for nonprofits to contemplate. Fundraisers should consider how the new philanthropic tool of impact investing affects existing ones — they hope new tools are used in addition to, rather than instead of, traditional giving vehicles.

Organizations in the key affected subsectors should pay particular attention to impact investors.

This is one possible way these organizations can more deeply engage existing donors or attract impact investors who may align with their current donor profile.

“By exploring how men and women approach impact investing,” Mesch said, “our findings can help nonprofits better navigate this new universe while also providing donors, wealth advisors and families the opportunity to evaluate where impact investing fits in with their broader wealth and philanthropic strategies.”


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