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Women, Widows and Wealth

One of our clients just told us about a 1.8 million dollar bequest they received. It was from the estate of a recently-deceased widow living in a far away state who long ago had been a volunteer at the institution. This widow took the time to leave a note explaining why she had left such a transformational gift. She reported that she appreciated the fact that the nonprofit never forgot about her. Now, in the interest of full reporting, the reason she was never forgotten about is probably because every time a solicitation went out, she would send a nice gift back. The VP of Advancement had a policy of calling anyone to say thank you who had given a gift in excess of a certain $ amount (which this widow always exceeded). Over the course of time, and after more than a few thank you calls, a relationship of sorts had been established.

More and more, we find that stories like these are popping up, if not exactly becoming commonplace. No longer do gifts from widows represent isolated events. It’s a trend. And those responsible for encouraging funding to charities should take notice.

The fact is that women make up more than half of the American population and a lot more than just half of the donor population. And because of the longer life expectancy of women, the older the donor base, the higher the percentage of women there is likely to be. As more and more men continue to pass away in larger numbers than women, the expectation is that even more assets are going to be controlled by women (it’s reported that women own over 60% of the assets in America already).

The ultimate decision, therefore, of what is to be done with a married couple’s property is determined in most cases by the surviving spouse –usually the wife– at her death.

For those of you working in planned and major gift development it’s important to be able to work effectively with older women, particularly widows.

Points to remember:

  • It can take 2 years or more for the widow to feel comfortable talking about considering a large gift from her estate.

  • Make sure you understand the widow’s commitment to your cause. Is it as strong for her as it was for her husband? If so, you have a better chance of securing a sizable gift.

  • Consider prevailing economic conditions on widows. If a widow is going to be living on accumulated assets. her level of commitment may be very conservative — and rightfully so.

Your development program should have a plan in place to maintain an appropriate relationship with widows. It may make sense to have a staff person evaluate the efforts directed towards widows.

One suggestion that might help to improve relations with widows is to acknowledge them based on their longevity of giving as well as total giving to your organization.

Have you had success working with this specific group that you’d be willing to share? Please do so here.

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