A new report by The Bridgespan Group, Illuminating Impact: Why Gender Matters for Funders in Any Issue Area, looks at 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. 

According to Bridgespan Partner and coauthor of the paper Elizabeth Bibb Binder, “For funders in every field, we have a clear message: To achieve equitable and lasting change, we must pay attention to the on-the-ground realities of how society works, and those realities are shaped profoundly by gender.” 

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 percent 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 percent of foundation giving in 2018. 

Debby Bielak, a co-author and Bridgespan partner says, “The fact is, many funders don’t consider gender equity when they think about impact, and even when they do, they approach gender only as its own discrete program area. But gender matters in every issue area, so the opportunity here goes far beyond ‘gender funders.’ It is an opportunity for every funder.” 

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.

“In sum,” says Bridgespan’s Head of US Advisory and co-author Nidhi Sahni, “funders who consider gender in their giving stand to accelerate their progress; those who don’t risk failing to achieve the impact they seek.”

Read the full report at https://www.bridgespan.org/insights/why-gender-matters-for-funders-in-any-issue-area.


About The Bridgespan Group 

The Bridgespan Group (www.bridgespan.org) is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organizations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington, DC. 

Liz London
The Bridgespan Group