Betty and The Importance of Women Leaving a Legacy

Betty and The Importance of Women Leaving a Legacy

August 16th, 2012

by Angela White


In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was privileged to serve my alma mater, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) in a myriad of development roles, culminating in the role of Vice President for Advancement during a campaign.

SMWC is a women’s college and thus the majority of the top donors are women. During my career at SMWC, the College received the largest bequest to date from an alumna who had outlived her husband, had no children, and was a consistent $25 per year donor.

As I wandered through Betty’s house after her death, I could tell of her great love for SMWC from all of the memorabilia in her home. I wondered why she had never told the College about her bequest and what thoughts went into her annual $25 gift per year knowing the impact that she would make after her death. I wondered why I had never met Betty during her lifetime and how Betty could have inspired other women to leave a legacy if her story had been told.  

Women continue to have higher life expectancies than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control; thus, women will be responsible for much of the distribution of wealth in the coming years.

However, a study published in May 2009 by the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University, found little statistical difference overall between the number of men and women who had wills or made a charitable bequest. And, from the research done by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (Women Give 2010), we know that female headed households give more to charity than their male counterparts except for the widow/widower category.

So, what is holding women back from making a charitable bequest? Is it the “bag lady” syndrome – the fear of outliving ones resources? Is it the desire to transfer wealth to family members? Is it a lack of education about estate planning that allows you to provide for loved ones and charity for the betterment of both? Or, is it that we don’t ask women to leave a legacy?

How many more stories like Betty could we tell if women exercised their philanthropic power to leave a legacy?

In October, I’ll be helping explore that topic as I present “Ten Tips for Soliciting Planned Gifts from Women” at the National Conference on Philanthropic Planning in New Orleans.  If you are able, I hope you will join me at this national gathering of planned giving professionals.  If not, I’ll be sure to share highlights of my presentation with you here on the JGA website.

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