The new report released from TD Wealth examines the critical and growing role women are playing in Canada’s charitable sector. With wives, partners and daughters set to inherit $1 trillion over the next decade, women are a driving force in Canadian philanthropy.

The new report, Trust and Transformation: Canadian Women and Philanthropy, delves into women’s unique motivations and approaches to giving, and details the evolving differences between generations of female philanthropists.

Donations claimed by women in annual tax filings increased from $1.5 billion in 2011 to $4.3 billion in 2021 and are projected to reach $5.9 billion by 2030, yet the TD study shows that tax incentives are not a key motivator for women when they make philanthropic decisions. Rather, trust emerged as an essential driver in Canadian women’s philanthropy, influencing how much, and to whom, they decide to give.

Trust key to female giving

Trust, as a critical decision driver, is reflected in the research and due diligence many women undertake to ensure they are fully satisfied with the strength of any charity, including volunteering, to gain a better understanding of the charity’s work, and establishing relationships with key management personnel before providing their financial support. Additionally, women who participated in the research emphasized the importance and trust they place on the views of their friends, family and colleagues when making decisions about donating.

“Before donating, women tend to do more extensive diligence than men. Women seek counsel from family and friends in making charitable giving decisions and they are also influenced by family experiences, social awareness and growth in financial resources. They also volunteer their time as a way to gain a better understanding of the charity’s work and establish relationships with key management personnel before providing any financial support,” said Jo-Anne Ryan, Vice President, Philanthropic Advisory Services at TD Wealth. “Women are a critical force behind the country’s charitable sector. Without women, the almost 86,000 Canadian charities would simply not function. Not only do they provide much-needed funding and a cadre of volunteers, but women participating in the sector are increasingly driving systemic change.”

Generational differences in philanthropic behaviour

The report also explores the differences in philanthropic priorities between younger and older female donors, finding that younger donors are more focused on the future, working to improve historical and emerging inequities, whereas older donors continue to support charities that their families have traditionally donated to. Younger women were also found to be more willing to self-identify as philanthropists, and the emergence of women in leadership positions and as role models has encouraged young women to step forward as volunteers, fundraisers, and funders.

Additionally, female entrepreneurs have become leaders in the creation of businesses that combine commercial success with the opportunity to create a better society. Coined “social entrepreneurs,” more women are integrating philanthropy into their business plans than ever before.

“We are seeing more female social entrepreneurs add philanthropy to their business plans, putting money back into their communities and incorporating purpose as part of their hiring practice. They are propelled to help others through a sense of social responsibility and a belief that everyone who is able should set aside some time, effort, and personal resources to help build a community that is just and equitable,” continued Ryan. “Women have a greater capacity to give than ever, and it’s important that Canadian charities of all types and sizes demonstrate their relevance and positive impact on those they serve.”

Additional findings from the report include:

  • Between 2020 and 2023, 40 per cent of the growth in total wealth controlled by women will be represented by inter-family transfers, such as divorce settlements and inheritances.
  • Giving by women is motivated by several factors, including family experiences, social awareness, the influence of friends and growth in financial resources.
  • Women are more likely to respond to current events and humanitarian crises, such as the negative impact of inflation on housing and food security, and environmental disasters associated with climate change in Canada.
  • Top causes supported by Canadian women include mental health support and research (42 per cent), medical research and treatment (38 per cent), and climate change and environmental efforts (37 per cent).

“As women’s influence over wealth in Canada continues to increase, it’s important to recognize that just as we plan for our financial future and retirement, having a philanthropic plan is equally important,” added Ryan. “Talking with an advisor to discuss your philanthropic goals and strategies is an essential step toward making a meaningful and lasting impact on the causes you care about – whether it’s advice on how philanthropy fits into your overall financial strategy or support establishing a structure to leave a legacy, such as private foundations or donor-advised funds. We always do better with a plan, and this holds true for our philanthropic endeavors as well.”


Taking a deep dive into the findings, insights, and realities capture in this report.

Without women the almost 86,000 Canadian charities would simply not function. Fundraising would collapse, animal shelters would not be staffed, and food banks would be forced to close. Of the 3.5 million people employed by the sector, approximately 2.7 million are women.

What’s more, women hold a significant proportion of executive positions at Canadian charities and more board positions are being filled by women as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies are implemented, particularly at local charities and those focused on the provision of social services.

It was 19 years ago that TD Wealth first commissioned a major study on Canadian women and their philanthropy. This ground-breaking report in 2014 was followed by supplementary reports in 2016 and 2017, all of which led to a heightened level of discourse about the important role of women in Canada as donors, volunteers, board directors and charity executives.

In a report published in 2022 by Statistics Canada, 69 percent of nonprofit organizations that serve the needs of Canadian families indicated that they have a need for volunteers. In all age groups, women outnumber men in terms of volunteering with an overall participation rate of 44 percent compared to 38 percent for men, suggesting that just over 13 million women volunteer their time to one or more charities. This and associated data around the approximate time spent translates into the equivalent of about 1.4 million full-time positions and confirms the continuation of circumstances that have existed for at least the past decade.

Since 2017, the emergence of a number of critical social issues have further shone the spotlight on women and fueled debate by women on the influence of these issues on the charitable sector. These catalysts include the #MeToo movement in 2017, the publication of the report of The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in June 2019, the murder of George Floyd in 2020 which accelerated the growth of Black Lives Matter, and the landmark 2022 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to remove the constitutional right to abortion.

These social issues and various existential issues – such as climate change – are influential forces, but not the only forces, affecting women and changing the shape of women-led philanthropy. Another force is the expanded access to, and the ownership of, financial resources that enable women to make an impact through immediate donations and sustainable monetary commitments.

These gender-specific changes and influences, together with the application of diversity, equity and inclusion frameworks and policies, have led to material shifts within the charitable sector. It is these shifts and the impact of these changes that are the subject of this new report. This report is not an addendum to the 2014 report but, rather, a fresh look at the topic. It is, deliberately, more qualitative than quantitative and seeks to capture the spirit and drivers of change in a way that will spark a new debate among participants in the charitable community.

Women not only work and volunteer in the sector, but they also represent a critical source of funding through donations that either flow directly to charities or are directed through private foundations and donor advised funds. For 2021, Statistics Canada reported that women claimed donations totalling $4.3 billion, an increase from the $1.5 billion donated a decade earlier.

Canadians at all income and wealth levels support charities in a variety of ways throughout their lives with gifts that can consist of money, goods, their personal time and support or other means – including fundraising on behalf of charities. Motivation for giving will vary from one person to the next but is generally founded on a sense of social responsibility and a desire to support one’s community.

Women and the Canadian Charitable Sector

The motivation to become philanthropic and to share personal skills and resources springs from many different sources and, based on the interviews conducted with female donors across Canada, is frequently a combination of many factors rather than a single event or experience.

“Giving is a universal opportunity,” points out Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, philanthropist, educator, and author. “Regardless of your age, profession, religion, income bracket, and background, you have the capacity to create change.“

Belonging to a community

Fundamentally, women are propelled to help others through a sense of social responsibility and a belief that citizenship imposes an obligation on everyone who is able to set aside some time, effort, and personal resources to help build a community that is just and equitable. Almost to a person, the women interviewed for this research echoed the words of former Governor-General David Johnson in the 2015 Speech from the Throne who said: “Canadians are open, accepting, and generous people. We know that helping those in need strengthens our communities and makes them safer, more prosperous places to live.”

To some, community was defined by geography, to others the community was based on colour and ethnicity, to a third group the defining feature was age, and to a fourth group their community was characterized by sexual orientation and identity. It is often these micro-communities within the larger community that are the focus of women volunteers and donors.

In one example, a Black donor in Ontario mentioned that her giving patterns had changed as a result of her willingness to express her Black identity “openly and unapologetically” and that she no longer wished to continue to try and assimilate and “pretend to be white.”

Family and friends

Many women spoke of the influence of their parents and grandparents in guiding them in the early days of their philanthropic journey. Some talked of a sense of responsibility to continue to support charities that have relied on the family for years. On the other hand, some younger donors mentioned the need to reflect contemporary issues in their giving.

While parents and grandparents are inspiring to many women, the power of friendship and the encouragement of colleagues also play an essential part in building philanthropic conviction. Throughout the research, women frequently mentioned the importance of trust and the high level of confidence that they placed in the advice given by friends and their willingness to support charities introduced to them by friends and trusted relatives, often to the point that the need for due diligence was overlooked or not considered appropriate.

As with all donors, many of the women that participated in the research discussed the impact of their family circumstances on their approach to philanthropy, such as growing up in a low-income family, a family death caused by a specific disease, or migration. In a few cases, women reflected on their own use of local charities. The experience of hardship as a child or young adult was a convincing experience for some women who are now focused on funding charities that deal with food insecurity, homelessness, and racial inequality while, at the same time, publicly advocating for changes to public policy.

Other motivating factors mentioned included:

  • Desire by immigrant donors to “give back” to Canada as a way of thanking the nation for providing them with an opportunity to succeed.
  • Belief that women need to work to ensure the protection of hard-won rights.
  • Realization that the creation of wealth comes with a responsibility to share.
  • Recognition that it is possible to combine a personal interest, such as environmental protection, with philanthropy.
  • A sense that government funding, in some cases, is insufficient to solve an issue within the community.
  • The visible outcome of making a gift was also mentioned as motivational in itself.

To many, the emergence of women as leaders in the political, public, private, and charitable sectors has been motivating and is seen as encouragement for girls and young women to set their sights high and seek to make an impact. None of the women donors that participated in the research mentioned as motivators either the tax benefits or the public recognition that might accompany a gift. In fact, some women mentioned a willingness not to claim the tax credit and a concern that public recognition might lead to unwanted approaches from charities that would not be supported.

The view from the corner office

During the research process, executives from various charities shared their opinions on the motivations behind women’s giving. More than one mentioned the increase in financial wellbeing of many women and their access to capital through business success or inheritance.

While inheritances would seem to provide resources one charity executive indicated that, in her view, Canadian women have been very conservative and, even collectively, seem to be reluctant to take a more prominent role, observing that “women are not yet making really big, bold moves that men do with their philanthropy”.

Access to resources was one driver of philanthropy, though executives also pointed to a heightened profile of issues that directly impact women and their families, as well as a determination by an increasing number of women to correct glaring imbalances in opportunity and to strive to develop a fairer and more caring society. It was also confirmed that the emergence of women in leadership positions and as role models has encouraged other women to step forward as volunteers, fundraisers, and funders.

The need for analysis

In discussing the issue, charity leaders, even those at charities with sizeable operating budgets, admitted that only limited analysis had been undertaken into donor attitudes and behaviours by gender, and that more work needed to be undertaken if charities were to refocus away from “white, middle-aged women” as the backbone of their women donor base.

Despite the lack of analysis, and a view by some executives that too much attention is paid to the differences between male and female donors, there is a view that charities are realizing that programs directed at women donors, such as the formation of giving circles and the identification of women-specific health projects, have themselves been motivational forces behind the growth in the generosity of Canadian women.

Strategy versus spontaneity

Although there was no universal approach by women who participated in the research to providing financial support to charities, the majority divided their support into two distinct approaches: strategic and reactionary. Strategic in the sense that a cause (or causes) was chosen, and multi-year commitments were often made. Reactionary in the sense that most women allocated some of their annual giving to immediate needs that could not be anticipated, such as disaster relief, or a specific local project, such as refugee housing.

A recent study of Canadian donors undertaken by Blackbaud indicated that in the preceding 12 months, 65 percent of women focused their generosity on four or fewer charities. The study also suggests that donors in the 35 – 54 age cohort are most likely to concentrate their giving.

Making a plan

A minority of women interviewed developed and followed an annual budget for charitable gifts as an element within their overall financial plan. In these cases, the size and timing of gifts, and the most effective way of giving, were points of discussion with external advisors such as accountants and wealth managers. One donor in Toronto was critical of the financial advisory industry and said, “financial planners need to talk about charitable giving”.

The majority of donors interviewed were not disciplined in terms of budgetary allocations or identifying specific sources of capital, although most women had a clear understanding of their overall capacity to give with some linking their level of generosity to investment returns. Not surprisingly, it was generally the case that women who had chosen to give through either a private foundation or a donor-advised fund had a clearer vision and purpose in place than those who did not. Such structures often lead to discipline within the donor family due to the importance of establishing a mission. For example, one donor indicated that, through their family foundation, they only give to charities doing work in Canada on the grounds that their wealth was created entirely within Canada.

A recent study released by the Canadian Association of Gift Planners Foundation and KCI indicated that only a minority of investment advisors and financial planners engage in in-depth discussions on philanthropy with their clients.

Focus on a theme

In the research discussions, many women indicated that their giving was centred on a specific cause such as acute homelessness, the education of children, or protecting the environment. In planning their philanthropic activities, the cause was central and volunteering and giving was dictated by the cause and the ability to monitor the result of their gift.

Although women generally looked very favourably on causes linked to women and girls, only a few strictly limited their giving to only women and girls’ causes, such as reproductive rights and human trafficking. Most women interviewed tended to look beyond gender-specific issues and adopted themes that addressed urgent social needs.

The importance of impact

While gift planning and goal setting was not adopted by all women, there was a general consensus that gifts should have impact on either the charity as a whole, or a specific project developed or sponsored by the charity. As one interviewee said, her giving is determined by a simple test – “Will it change at least one life?

To a few, major gifts needed to go beyond impact and become transformational, an objective that was more likely to be achieved by giving to small, grass-roots organizations rather than a mature charity. Many women donors interviewed demonstrate a preference for charities of modest means and hold the view that male donors tend to favour large charities, such as hospitals and universities.

One donor who runs a private foundation focused on educational opportunities for women and girls made a sobering observation about the challenge of demonstrating the impact of women-focused organizations as “taking two steps forward and one step back”. The point was made that traditional views and practices hold sway in many areas of the charitable sector and that progress can be slower than ideal.


A number of women mentioned the value they ascribed to research and due diligence and an associated unwillingness to make a meaningful gift until they were fully satisfied with the strength of any charity. Even those women who are generally supportive of the movement toward trust-based philanthropy (see sidebar) were unwilling to move away from the need to develop a sound understanding of the charity and its work before making a financial commitment.

It was Sir Thomas Browne, an English polymath, who has first used the expression (in the present form, as we use it today) in Religio Medici published in 1642. Community Foundations Canada summarizes trust-based philanthropy as: “An approach to giving that addresses the inherent power imbalances between funders, nonprofits and the communities they serve.” This approach has at its heart unrestricted grantmaking, donor transparency and proactivity, and a reduced set of demands by donors.

Due diligence

The list of due diligence activities seen as important by women, particularly those with a business background, is long and includes:

  • The need for the charity to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion at both the board and management levels.
  • Assessing whether board members properly reflect the communities they serve.
  • Determining the quality of leadership in terms of day-to-day management, implementation of organizational strategy and achievement of objectives.
  • An evaluation of strategic and operational plans and budgets.
  • A review of the financial condition of the charity in order to assess past performance and its ability to deliver on its mission in the foreseeable future.
  • Discussions with friends and other trusted third parties regarding the local profile and reputation of the charity and its work.
  • The type of relationship that would follow a gift, such as the opportunity to meet with like-minded donors or attend educational events led by experts.

Some women use a period as a volunteer to gain a broad understanding of the charity’s work and an opportunity to establish a relationship with key management personnel prior to providing any financial support. In general, when comparing men and women donors, one donor said, “women spend more time on details” while another indicated that “women tend to do more extensive diligence than men.”

Heart and mind

In developing an approach to their philanthropy, the women involved in the research identified a variety of issues that shaped their thinking and decisions as opposed to motivating them to become philanthropic.

A number of those interviewed emphasized the importance of having an emotional attachment to the providing cause (“Heart”) as well as a rational reason for providing support (“Mind”). In addition, the point was made by some that, as women and, in many cases, mothers, women strive to make the world a better place through change while men are often driven to preserve and protect. In addition, the point was made by some that, as women and, in many cases, mothers, women strive to make the world a better place through change while men are often driven to preserve and protect.

Other influences

Some donors discussed their preference not to work through various charitable intermediaries as such institutions may, unintentionally, limit their ability to establish a direct relationship with a charity, a matter of importance to many donors. On the other hand, there were women who strongly supported these organizations on the basis that they were better able than an individual donor to identify community needs.

A few interviewees spoke about their faith and places of worship as a guide as they developed their personal approach to giving. As mentioned earlier in the report, others spoke of the impact of the level of government funding to a specific cause and how they decided to direct donations to a cause, such as healthcare delivery, in order to help offset a perceived lack of adequate government funding. In the same vein, some donors mentioned giving to political parties that identified with their views on issues such as climate change, affordable housing and reconciliation. That said, a major donor in Western Canada indicated that she does not see “many prominent female philanthropists promoting political change.”

Areas of debate

During the conversations with women from across Canada, four issues were brought forward that will likely impact the direction of women’s philanthropy in the future. These were:

  • Restricted versus unrestricted giving
  • Trust-based philanthropy
  • Intersectional grantmaking
  • The future of endowments

Many women raised the topic of restricted versus unrestricted gifts. A number of interviewees made the point that they give to specific projects at or managed by a charity and that they did not want to fund operating expenses to enable the charity to maintain its operations. Only a few give on an unrestricted basis to support the overall mission of the charity and allow the charity to use its discretion as to how the funds may be used most effectively. Linked to this first issue is the second topic, that of a growing number of adherents to the concept of trust-based philanthropy mentioned in a previous section.

While only a few interviewees noted this approach explicitly, they were eloquent in expressing how they felt it has the potential to transform and empower charities and may represent an emerging paradigm shift. It is worth noting that the number of women claiming a tax credit for donations to a political party declined from 103,570 in 2015 (a year in which a general election was held) to 63,380 in 2020. The third topic raised, particularly by women of colour, was the move to, and the importance of, intersectional grantmaking.

In a guide developed for applicants to the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund, intersectionality is described as a framework for understanding how a person’s different social and political identities can combine and overlap to create different and increased levels of discrimination. One interviewee noted that she has moved from a focus on women’s issues in general to giving more specific attention to issues facing Black women.

Finally, one philanthropist based in Quebec wondered aloud about the future of endowments and whether policies that allow both public and private foundations to sit on significant pools of capital were appropriate at a time when the needs of the charitable sector and other needs, such as affordable housing, were constrained by limited access to capital. One donor observed that women are more likely than men to react to sudden calls for support, a belief that has been confirmed by a recent study. Based on a survey, the report indicated that 50 percent of women compared to 45 percent of men are influenced by current events.

When questioned about specific events or developments, women mentioned:

  • The global pandemic.
  • Climate change associated disasters in Canada (flooding, forest fires etc.).
  • The negative impact of inflation on housing and food security.
  • The war in Ukraine.

In the case of the last example, it was noticeable that women with a European heritage or those that had suffered from military action seemed more affected than other women. Some events spurred action by specific groups of women. For example, the reaction to the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in 2020 was noticeable among Black women interviewed for the project, many of whom indicated that this event brought a new focus to their philanthropy. Another example cited was the reported increase in homophobic crimes in Canada, and the introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in many countries including Kenya and Uganda. This resulted in some women from the LGBTQ+ community re-orienting their giving to support victims of such crimes.

It was not only events that changed the attitudes and priorities of some women but also new learning. Interviewees mentioned attending lectures, listening to podcasts, and reading articles as having an influence. Some issues mentioned in relation to education were a heightened awareness of mental health and addiction needs within their community, the long-term impact of environmental degradation and, critically, the importance of the development and implementation of DEI policies within all sectors of society.

Many women mentioned their support for charities dedicated to issues arising from an increase in the visibility of the LBTQ+ community, particularly transgender and non-binary people, and how the heightened information flows and public discussions were requiring them to re-think how best to support such causes.

One entrepreneur interviewed indicated that she was determined that a company she established would become a “vocal voice for women and LGBTQ+ causes.” She also made the observation that despite the increased attention, there were very few national charities, other than Rainbow Railroad, that are dedicated to LGBTQ+ causes.

While current events and new information may have positive impacts on the giving habits of women, this is not always the case. For example, when asked if their donation habits had changed since the global pandemic, 24 percent of women (and 19 percent of men) acknowledged that their donations had been cut back. At the same time, however, 22 percent of donors (both women and men) indicated their giving had increased compared with pre-pandemic giving, a change that was particularly noticeable among donors in the 18 – 34 years cohort.

Taking advice

Many women who give to charities, either through a formal structure, such as private foundation or a donor-advised fund (DAF), or directly, tend not to seek advice from external professionals on gift recipients but prefer to rely on their own research or personal networks. Some women do seek advice from accountants, legal advisors, and wealth managers in regard to the amount and timing of gifts and, perhaps, the most appropriate structures for their philanthropy. Other women who work through DAFs established at community foundations mentioned the use of in-house community foundation resources to help them reach decisions. The point was made that advice is rarely available to modest donors or those beginning their philanthropic journey.

How women give to charity

In terms of giving, there was no clear pattern among the women engaged in the research project. Many provide an annual lump sum (often at the end of the year) while others prefer to make a monthly payment to benefit their own cash flow as well as that of the designated charity. In cases where a pledge was entered into, women generally viewed them as having a specific tenure rather than being an open-ended commitment without a maturity. Based on discussions, it is evident that an increasing number of affluent women are using giving vehicles, particularly DAFs. DAFs were viewed as “simple and convenient”, although one donor did note she had closed her DAF. DAFs are not the only vehicle being used, and mention was made of private foundations, both endowed and spend-down models, insurance policies, and bequests incorporated into a will. Finally, there was a clear interest by many women in becoming more aware of giving options and a sense that opportunities to give efficiently and effectively were being overlooked by donors. Notwithstanding the increased use of giving vehicles, currently the preferred method of giving is not through a vehicle but through a gift of cash or appreciated securities given directly to a charity. Some small gifts are channeled through platforms such as CanadaHelps or GoFundMe – a for-profit platform valued at US$650 million – or large charities that act on behalf of other charities (other than the United Way or local community foundations).

Galas: A number of women raised the topic of fundraising galas as a means of giving and raising funds. Many are supportive of special events, despite the time and effort required by employees and volunteers to develop, market and manage the event. Support is based on the assumption that galas raise money and awareness and introduce new individual and corporate donors. The naysayers believe that such events distract staff from the mission of the charity, fail to raise the targeted amount, and appeal to an elite group rather than build a broad base of supporters.

Indigenous causes: Little Canadian research has been published in regard to support provided by the donor community to Indigenous charities and various qualified donees such as First Nations Governments. In August 2022, and published a note which sheds some light on the issue and provides data for both 2018 and 2019. The note indicates that in 2019 total grants over $30,000 to this group were $60.6 million compared to $46.9 million in 2018, an increase of 29 percent over the year. Despite this positive trend, the share of grants going to Indigenous causes represented only 0.7 percent of total grants in 2019, a disproportionally small share given that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples represent approximately 4.9 percent of Canada’s population. The interviews conducted with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous women demonstrated a keen awareness of the need to bring attention to the support needs of causes that have a direct and lasting impact on Indigenous communities such as environmental degradation, affordable housing, healthcare, education, mental health addiction, and domestic violence.

The cultural sector: Despite the view of one donor in Western Canada who suggested that “there is an increasing appreciation for the arts and its importance in society”, a number of female donors raised a concern about the emerging difficulties faced by cultural organizations, such as museums, art galleries and performing arts organization on the grounds that their importance was being overtaken by other categories of charities. This concern is not exaggerated as survey data indicates that only 6.2 percent of female donors support arts and culture compared to 8.7 percent of men, with the lowest level of support being Generation X (those born between 1966 and 1980), the most indebted generation. Furthermore, a report published in 2023 highlighted the fact that total receipted revenues for the 2,665 charities active in the cultural sector were lower than many categories such as the 998 charities working in animal welfare.

Governance: Many, if not most, donors mentioned the high level of importance given to the composition of the board of directors of charities that they currently support or might support in the future. Women donors expect an appropriate gender balance on the board with the presence of a women as chair as a positive signal, particularly if the charity is focused on women and family issues.

One female philanthropist who was the Chair of a major charity indicated that changing the board composition from “all old white men” to one with representation from Indigenous groups and visible minorities – not to mention women from various age groups – was a priority.

But the issue of diversity on boards goes well beyond gender in the minds of most women. Boards need to represent the interests of donors and volunteers of all ages, the geographic community served by the charity, as well as those that the charity serves.

Communications: Coming a close second in terms of importance to women was the type and frequency of communications by the charity. Women look for evidence of mission accomplishment, stories of the impact of the work of the charity, progress against project milestones, and how their donations and volunteer efforts have been used to benefit the work of the charity.

The frequency of communication was far less of an issue (to the point that some charities were accused of information overload) than content and “voice” which should be educational, inspirational and relevant to women and not always associated with a request for donations.

Coming together: Charity executives talked extensively about the success of bringing women together and providing a “safe space” for discussions about not only the work of the charity but also the background to the cause. For example, a food bank should not limit discussions to the distribution of food to low income families but, in addition, bring in speakers to talk about the causes of food insecurity. Donors expressed support for educational events and presentations customized to the needs and interests of women that would provide for peer-to-peer learning and networking. Events should embrace women of all ages and backgrounds and should not be viewed as a benefit offered only to established or significant donors. More than one donor emphasized the need for meetings and events to be focused, respectful of time and not always viewed as a fundraising opportunity.

Different types of forums: Gala committees and giving circles are both examples of women seeking to work with other women in pursuit of a common cause. Despite the challenges brought about by the global pandemic and the differing opinions of women, based on age, wealth level, and ethnicity, it seems that most types of group activity continue to bring value both to participants and charities. Many charities have recognized the necessity to bring women supporters (not necessarily donors) of all types together at regular events. Some charities have found benefit in bringing female donors together to “learn, share and inspire” as one charity executive summarized the intention.

Giving circles: In other cases, these more general women’s groups either became or spawned giving circles of like-minded women who pool financial resources, meet at least quarterly and choose or are directed to women-focused projects. One example of these types of circles is the Tiffany Circle of the Canadian Red Cross, which at the end of 2021 reported a membership of 70 and a ten-year fundraising total of $11.6 million. A second example would be the Sea Star Club at The Peace Arch Hospital Foundation in White Rock (one of four circles at the foundation), which requires only a modest monthly gift to become a member.

There appears to be no standard structure to giving circles: some are limited to women able to donate a set amount each year (in one case $10,000, and in another $10,000 over five years) while others have no financial barriers to entry. Based on the interviews it seems that the more strict the entry requirement, the more likely the giving circle will fail to accommodate young women or those from visible minorities. A number of executives cited examples of young women who were reluctant to join an all-women giving circle and one executive from a community foundation mentioned difficulties faced in broadening the membership of giving circles to more closely reflect the make up of the community.

Relationships: The importance of developing long-term, personal relationships with women at all levels of giving was a consistent theme in research interviews, as was the necessity to understand that the relationship should not begin or end with a financial transaction. In other words, charities need to establish multiple “entry points” to enable women to participate in a variety of different ways and to fastidiously avoid giving the impression that only wealthy donors are important.

A number of women also raised the issue of the need for charities to understand the link between the supporter and the cause on the basis that understanding the link would likely open up opportunities for the development of the relationship. In some cases, relationships can be furthered by identifying specific projects in need of funding which would be a particular interest to women.

Conclusions: Trust, Systemic Change, and Work to be Done

Despite the challenges wrought by the global pandemic and the subsequent economic disharmony, Canadian women have provided further evidence that they remain a driving force within the charitable sector. Not only do they provide much-needed funding, particularly at the grass-roots level, and a cadre of volunteers, but women participating in the sector are increasingly driving systemic change.

Change is all around

Change is occurring in many areas, albeit at a pace that is at times frustrating to some. Boards of charities are beginning to mirror the communities they serve rather than the donors that provide funding. Women, increasingly making up significant shares of boards and senior executive positions, are becoming more vocal and are not only making decisions to change but loudly advocating for change to both public attitudes and public policy.

Change is also coming to the causes that women support, and clear distinctions are becoming visible between women and men donors. As indicated in this report, women seem to be focused on the future in terms of working to address historical and emerging inequities and finding solutions that will allow society to help deal with the impact of climate change and to prevent the degradation of our natural environment.

Not there yet

Although measurable and continuous progress has been made in many areas, such as entrepreneurial activity, as one interviewee claimed, “we are not there yet!”. Not there in terms of equality of opportunity, not there yet in term of economic clout, not there yet in terms of women’s voices being heard loud and clear in places where major decisions are made, and not there yet in the amount of money donated to causes focused on the needs of women and girls.

Women have a greater capacity to make gifts to charities than ever before and, if predications are fulfilled, this capacity will expand considerably over the next two decades. At the same time, Canadian charities cannot be assured of reaping the benefit of this expanded capacity. As is evident from recent research referenced in this report, family financial priorities can change quickly with lasting impact and charitable giving tends to be demoted in times of economic stress in favour of debt reduction and retirement savings.

In order to ensure that they continue to be viewed as a financial and personal priority, Canadian charities of all types and sizes must become more able to demonstrate the relevance and positive impact they have on those they serve. Pleading poverty is not sufficiently convincing, and, despite the emergence of trust-based philanthropy as a creed, the rise of women in business and professional positions is bringing a need for a demonstration of competence in the board rooms and C suites of charities. Charities must earn the privilege of receiving gifts from the millions of Canadian women who are committed to making the world a better place.

Another theme that arose through the research interviews was the role of trust in framing the actions and decisions of women. Women interviewed emphasized the importance and trust they place on the views of their friends and colleagues, the information provided by charities in terms of progress made against objectives and the financial condition of the organization, and the actions of board directors both individually and collectively. It is critical that charities behave in such a way that the trust of supporters is not misplaced.

Women, given their increasing wealth and the attendant complexity of their personal affairs, will likely seek advice on the overall financial plan as well as their philanthropy. Women who participated in our research, although independent in many ways, believe that their financial advisors need to be more willing and far better prepared to spend time helping them plan their charitable giving.

Overall, notwithstanding the potential for turbulence as the result of shifting norms and priorities, and an uncertain political and economic outlook, the expectation is for donations made by women to reach almost $6 billion by 2030, a number which could be exceed if more women with access to financial wealth decided to come forward and reverse the trend seen in recent years. Of comfort and a cause for optimism is the fact that, irrespective of age, two-thirds of Canadian women place “the common good” ahead of “individual rights and freedoms”.

The Trust and Transformation: Canadian Women and Philanthropy report is a research paper on Canadian women and philanthropy, commissioned by TD Wealth as part of an initiative to better understand the financial needs, habits and aspirations of Canadian women. This report is based on the findings from a series of interviews conducted by KCI professionals with approximately 60 individuals who identify as women from across Canada. All material is reproduced with permission.

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