Actress Marlo Thomas says that her father, the comedian Danny Thomas, never explicitly prepared her to take on the task of supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the institution he founded in Memphis, Tenn.
But the first time she visited the hospital after his death, she caught the St. Jude fever and elected to carry on his legacy. “It’s in my DNA,” she says.
Thomas, who is now the national outreach director for St. Jude, recently shared her inspiring story at a symposium sponsored by Auburn University’s Women’s Philanthropy Board. The board helps support the university’s College of Human Sciences, which hopes to cultivate future generations of women philanthropists.
Women increasingly have the wherewithal to give, and the inclination to give it. Yet there are gender differences between men’s and women’s philanthropic giving. Men are more likely to have personal and practical reasons for giving — to get a tax deduction, for example. They’re also more likely to focus their giving on fewer causes and to write a check. Women tend to get involved.
Among married couples, about 75 percent make joint decisions regarding charitable giving. But that proportion drops to about 50 percent in households with a high net worth, where women are more likely to make their own decisions and to be more strategic.
So how can women make the most of their giving? First off, remember that charity begins at home — or, as Thomas puts it, “you need to get your life in order before you can afford to give to others.”
Keep track of your giving and take advantage of tax breaks. If you want to entrust your retirement savings to a socially conscious fund, pick one with a solid track record.
To ensure your giving has a more direct impact, consider opening a donor-advised fund with a company such as Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard. You donate cash or other assets to the fund and decide later which charities to support.
Or join a giving circle. Pauline Nist belongs to a group of about 50 Silicon Valley women, each of whom contributes $1,000 a year to Hope to Health, which is affiliated with the El Camino Hospital Foundation, in Mountain View, Calif. Every year, the women vote on how to spend the money; this year’s focus will be on mental health programs.
“Some people really want to be active” in a charity, Nist says. “But if all you want to do is write the check, that’s OK too.”
Janet Bodnar is editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to email@example.com.