Pink and blue waves with data in the background

Funders’ hidden contribution to the sector: their data

October 28, 2021

Blog originally written by Laia Griñó  and published by Candid.

Every year, hundreds of funders from the U.S. and other countries around the world share data about their grantmaking with Candid. For Candid, or more accurately, the social sector, this is a boon for several reasons. For one, the data tends to be of better quality than that which is available from public sources like 990 and 990PF forms. It’s also more timely. Without this directly reported data, Candid would be able to offer the field relatively little information on how philanthropy is addressing today’s challenges and helping communities thrive. There’s a direct benefit to funders as well. By providing more detailed information about what their grants are intended to accomplish and who they’re meant to benefit, funders leave less room for interpretation and can take greater control of the story of their grantmaking. Doing so can also be easy, thanks to Candid’s partnerships with several grants management software vendors

These are the rationales Candid offers up in making the case to funders for sharing their grants data. But what are funders’ own motivations for sharing data? And what goes into making that decision? I recently spoke to a few funders who share their data with Candid to get their perspective.  

What prompts funders to share data? 

Most funders learn about the opportunity to share their grants data from others in the sector. In many cases, these are Candid partners. The Arizona Foundation for Women, for example, decided to participate in direct reporting after getting the call to action from the Arizona Grantmakers Forum (AGM), one of Candid’s Get on the Map Campaign partners. As Ellen Lord, donor relations and program director, put it, because of their strong relationship with AGM it never crossed their mind to say no, especially since they could see no cons to sharing the information. 

For both the Pisces Foundation and the Amalgamated Foundation, the initial prompt came from the Donors of Color Network’s Climate Funders Justice Pledge, which requires transparent reporting of grants data (along with a commitment to increase “funding of BIPOC-led powerbuilding groups to at least 30% within two years”). This emphasis on transparency resonated with both funders.  

“We felt that sharing our grants data is consistent with our mission to bring greater transparency to philanthropy,” said Anna Fink, executive director of the Amalgamated Foundation. “If felt consistent with our values.” Similarly, Lauren Witt, grants manager at the Pisces Foundation, noted that for them, transparency in grantmaking is “an important step towards advancing equity in the field.” Equity, inclusivity, and justice are core values underlying the foundation’s grantmaking. “Centering equity in our funding and activities is mission critical to achieving a safe and secure future for people and the environment,” she said. 

For the Columbus Foundation, sharing grants data will be a natural offshoot of their decision to become a more data centric organization, an effort that is prompting the foundation to rethink how they structure, collect, report, and use data. This extends to data beyond that of the foundation. Hena Masood, community research and grants management officer, shared that an important reason the Columbus Foundation is putting data in is that they’d like to get data out, and ultimately collaborate with other organizations. At the Pisces Foundation, Lauren echoed that sentiment: “We are eager to contribute to field-wide resources and hope that transparency and collaboration within the field will pave the way for a collective approach to other questions foundations are wrestling with, like how to collect and share demographic information.” 

Advice and guidance for other funders 

The Columbus Foundation also shared some practical advice for colleague organizations. Hena noted that the foundation will soon be sharing data using Candid’s simplified template (see our how-to guide for more details). “We’re starting there. Hopefully there’s no shame in that,” she said (Candid editorial note: There is indeed no shame in that! We offer similar advice: Start with what you have and go from there.). She also shared that she is investing time now in making this a “very repeatable process” so that the next time the foundation shares its data, it takes little time. As she put it: “Start simple and then try to simplify your future reporting.”  

As it goes through the process of getting its data ready for publication, the Columbus Foundation has also discovered that there is another benefit to sharing data externally: making internal data practices more consistent across teams or programs. Pulling all the data together into a single report has highlighted the differences in approaches across the organization, and so now the foundation plans to work on standardizing fields. 

The Amalgamated Foundation shared a similar experience. “The process… has been really helpful to us in doing a deeper dive into our own grantmaking,” said Anna. “We’ve been able to use the process to track our own impact in some really significant ways that have allowed us to illustrate who we are and share some really important numbers with our community. There are benefits you don’t think about when you start this journey.” 

Candid exists to get the field the information it needs to do good. But we can’t accomplish that mission alone. We hope funders will recognize that their data is an asset, and decide to share it. As Anna put it: this process “underscored for us that the impact of philanthropy will increase when there is trust, and sharing data with Candid as part of a community builds trust… It adds to the impact of our work overall.” 

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