An Innovator Inspiring More Giving: Jennifer Risher

By Alyssa Wright   |   May 20, 2024
“#HalfMyDAF is a fantastic program. It has been so helpful to Prospera because we’ve received matching grants and have been able to connect with other donors who want to support a vibrant community of Latina immigrants.” – Maite Gasco, Prospera, Oakland, CA

They say a heart-driven approach to leadership can change the world. If this is true, Jennifer Risher is on her way to doing just that. A self-described “heart-driven person,” Risher is a wise example of how getting clear about wealth, being true to yourself, and taking action can have a big impact. 

In 1991, Risher joined Microsoft and became an extra-lucky beneficiary of the dot-com boom. But as she moved from middle class to multi-millions, her new fortune brought uncertainty and discomfort. It took years to come to terms with new wealth. As part of the process, Risher wrote a memoir entitled, We Need To Talk: A Memoir About Wealth. Risher’s book is an honest exploration of how wealth affects identity, one’s place in the world, and how finances too often correlate to our self-worth. The book is a catalyst for demystifying wealth. 

Since then, Risher has been “all in,” using her experience and social capital to help others understand their own money stories and find their purpose. She has also been investing with women of color and shaking up a system that allows – even encourages – too much wealth to sit on the sidelines. “I’m breaking the taboo around talking about money, and shifting power and capital with the goal of economic, gender, and racial equity.”  

#HalfMyDAF Was an Emotional Response to COVID 

Sitting in their backyard, sheltering in place during the early months of COVID,  Jennifer and her husband, David, discussed how to help nonprofits. They were highly aware of the need and hard work being done and also of the billions of dollars just sitting in donor-advised funds. In addition to what they were already giving, they came up with a way to inspire yet more and get other donors to join them. “Our hearts went out to nonprofits that were working harder than ever and yet starved for funding. #HalfMyDAF was an emotional reaction to the need and uncertainty.”

As evident in her memoir, Risher is not one to stay quiet when she sees a need, even when it means disrupting the status quo. The Rishers put up $1 million in the form of matching grants to inspire people with donor-advised funds to start giving. “Any donor-advised fund (DAF) donor who committed to spending half of their DAF by the end of September 2020 had the chance to get matching grants from us. We created a website, launched in May on Giving Tuesday, began to raise awareness of what was, at the time, $140 billion stuck in DAFs, and got money moving to nonprofits.”

That first year, in just five months, #HalfMyDAF moved $8.6 million from DAFs to nonprofits. Although it hadn’t been their intention, over the last four years, the Rishers have continued with #HalfMyDAF, contributing millions, rallying donors and nonprofits, and creating a sense of urgency, excitement, and community. “It’s become a real movement. There’s a lot of buzz.”

Reimagining the Philanthropic Process and Adding a Gender Lens 

“In the past four years, I’ve seen the impact of #HalfMyDAF grow not just for Gateway Public Schools but across the board for nonprofits. I’m sharing the initiative with fellow fundraisers so they can make #HalfMyDAF part of their major donor work, and it’s become part of every conversation I have with Gateway’s current and potential donors. While the concept is simple – moving charitable dollars to nonprofits and increasing investments in our community – it takes a peer-to-peer and donor-driven effort like this to make it happen. We’re deeply appreciative of the Rishers and the growing list of DAF donors who are making this possible!” – Chanda Lockhart, Gateway Public Schools, San Francisco, CA.

Some donors meet for hours upon hours with financial and philanthropic advisors. They craft strategic giving plans and platforms. It can take years to figure out the right “flow” of resources. They run each and every potential scenario for their money by a vast array of stakeholders. Again, and again, and again. Taking time and money away from real people, in real time, that need support.

But sometimes the philanthropic process can get in the way of human transformation.

In March 2020, Risher reacted to a world in trouble. She used a heart-driven approach and let her empathy inform her actions and drive her philanthropy. In the last four years, #HalfMyDAF has mobilized over $50 million.

Risher openly discusses wrestling with her own relationship to money and wealth. She also notes that heart-centered philanthropy has been a learning journey. “Like it or not, we are part of a capitalist system. Philanthropy is only one small part of how we, as women, can drive the change we want to see. We need to activate the power of our talents, time, ties, testimony, and treasure in all aspects of our lives and make sure we invest with our values and with a purpose beyond financial return.”

#HalfMyDAF is issue-agnostic but has also given millions to nonprofits working toward gender and racial equity and for reproductive health. Risher personally seeks to bring a stronger gender lens to her philanthropy and organizing into the future. A proud member of the Women Donors Network and a new board member of Women Moving Millions, she seeks to inspire more women to support each other by leaning into these times and aligning their resources for change.

Her heart-driven leadership advice? “Get out there and be unabashedly visible. Build your LinkedIn. Build your thought leadership. Network as part of your work day. The old ways of women being invisible are over. There is nothing indelicate about standing in your power, owning your voice.”


Co-founder: Jennifer Risher