Q. I’m thinking of leaving some money in my will to the college I attended. When my husband was alive, we gave more to his alma mater than mine, and I want to make up for it. Should I let the school know about my plan?  Or is it enough to just mention the bequest in my will?

It’s common for widows to want to continue giving to and supporting charities their husbands cared about. But as we grow more independent in our new role as women on our own, we often start feeling more in charge of decision making. And philanthropy is very empowering for women.

It wasn’t until 20 years ago that women started asking for parity in their gifts, according to Abbie J. von Schlegell, CFRE, a consultant on philanthropy. The first evidence of it was a $200 million gift to National Public Radio by Joan Kroc, widow of Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s. She also left $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army.

Although few of us are in Joan Kroc’s financial league, we women do have surprising resources today. Women live longer than men (although the gender gap in life expectancy has narrowed to under five years). Many women today inherit not only when their husbands die, but also when their parents die.

Women have money. They now control more than 50 percent of the wealth in the United States, and that means assets.

“The baby boomer women, particularly, are inheriting (or will) twice. There’s this huge wealth transfer that we’ll be in the middle of by 2017,” says von Schlegell.

It’s a very good idea to notify your alma mater of your intention to donate in advance – for a few reasons. It gives the school a chance to get to know you better and help you understand the impact your gift can make. Donating also has social benefits, offering a whole new way to meet new people you didn’t know you had a connection to. You’ll be invited to donor and educational events, where you’ll be treated very well. You may find you want to get involved in ways you never thought about before.

Von Schlegell notes, for example, that many women who were Girl Scouts as children now serve on the Girl Scouts council in her area.

“The majority are widows,” she says. “They find community in that.”


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at fisaacs@florenceisaacs.com.

Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist, author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest SympathiesWhen the Man You Love Is Ill,What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, FBI Buffalo Field Office

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