Science and risk aren’t two words we typically think of as related. Risks are for daredevils, thrill-seekers, and the like. Science is for academics, and academic scientific inquiry is often thought of as a slow, methodical process where teams of researchers stand upon the shoulders of giants and advance their fields of empirical knowledge one hypothesis and one study at a time. Most lay people (and therefore most donors) do not view it as having the same dynamic potential and big-thrill excitement as, say, starting a new business.

Yet philanthropy is an area where these two words can align, with stellar results.

A medical science researcher shared with us her philosophy on philanthropy and risk, and her perspective may seem surprising. She explained that when she applies for federal grants and funding, she indeed focuses on the proven methods and well-understood subjects that appear to carry few surprises. Yet the greatest progress in science happens in areas not yet traversed. Scientists know this and are always seeking new concepts that might lead to a breakthrough.

What you get from the philanthropic money is the ability to be really creative, to look at things that are high risk, high reward, and then to leverage those opportunities back into funding from federal and other sources that are more conventional.

—Medical Science Researcher

In other words, she—and many researchers like her—depends on philanthropy to seed research too new and unproven to be fundable through traditional sources. Then, after a promising area of research has elicited initial results, she can leverage what was accomplished through philanthropy to achieve more funding. In this way, the philanthropy produces a return many times greater than that which was invested.

Donors who appreciate risk—particularly entrepreneurs—are ideally suited to philanthropy of this nature. When research scientists are able to articulate their work as a compelling philanthropic opportunity to potential donors, they open the door for a meaningful, impactful relationship.

Learn more about ways in which the medical science researchers at your institution can leverage philanthropy to achieve greater success.


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