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Study: Accounting for the role of gender is critical to maximizing philanthropic impact

Written on May 22, 2024

A new report examines the ways that considering gender in all philanthropic endeavors, beyond those explicitly allocated for women and girls initiatives, can accelerate the pace of progress in any sector. 

The report, Illuminating Impact: Why Gender Matters for Funders in Any Issue Area, was released by the Bridgespan Group. 

Bridgespan research indicates that in 2021-2022, US donors made roughly 200 grants of $25 million or more to social change causes, but just 16% of gifts in the sample named gender as an explicit focus of their grant. Globally, funding for Black women, girls and trans people is a much smaller piece of the pie, amounting to just 0.1 to 0.35% of foundation giving in 2018. 

The report highlights examples such as a health funder who seeks to improve health care outcomes for all but may not consider that women are often excluded from clinical trials, most notably for cardiovascular disease, cancer and mental health disorders. With drug efficacy and treatment recommendations largely being based on men, diseases are misdiagnosed and undertreated in women and health disparities widen. 

Bridgespan’s research includes interviews and engagement with more than 80 funders, nonprofit leaders and global experts and learnings from a facilitated learning community of funders. They surfaced five practices funders can apply to effectively consider gender in service of speeding progress in any issue area: 

  • Understand your starting point on gender: Take stock of how you are approaching gender in your work today and where you might want to go. 

  • Analyze gender in your issue area: Research the current outcomes by gender together with other dimensions of identity where inequities often exist, such as race, socioeconomic status, ability and sexual orientation, and consider root causes for places of disparity. 

  • Design a portfolio that addresses gender in your issue area: Whom and what might you fund differently? Consider funding more women-led organizations and collaboratives that focus on gender equity, including feminist funds. And choose from many strategies that can deepen your impact, from meeting basic needs to addressing root causes over the longer term. 

  • Invest in women’s leadership: Women leaders bring unique attributes that can help unlock impact in any issue, yet they face distinct barriers to accessing decision-making roles and remaining in them over time. Provide steadfast and flexible funding to women leaders across sectors so that they can stay and thrive. 

  • Evolve your organization to support your gender aspirations: Revisit your organization’s culture, grantmaking processes, measurement and structure to ensure they align with your gender equity goals. 

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