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Data, Research, and Knowledge Tools — Where and When You Need Them

November 12, 2013

(Lisa Philp serves as vice president for strategic philanthropy at the Foundation Center.)

Cover_media_impactEarlier today the Foundation Center, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and Media Impact Funders, an affinity group of grantmakers, released a new report titled Growth in Foundation Support for Media in the United States (20 pages, PDF).

Headlines from the Research

As the most comprehensive and detailed picture of U.S. media-related funding by foundations to date, the research offers a number of new insights:

  • Media-related funding is substantial in size and scope -- 1,012 foundations made 12,040 media-related grants totaling $1.86 billion from 2009-11. If treated as a single category, media-related grantmaking would have ranked seventh in terms of domestic grantmaking in 2011, placing it just behind environment and ahead of science and technology, religion, and the social sciences.
  • Foundations increasingly are focused on media funding -- Media-related grantmaking grew at a faster rate than overall domestic grantmaking from 2009-11 (21 percent increase vs. 5.8 percent, respectively).
  • Funders are reacting to the changing landscape of media in the digital age -- New media investments (Web-based and mobile) outpaced those in traditional media (print, television, and radio) by a factor of four (116.5 percent increase vs. 29.4 percent, respectively).

These findings and many others will be discussed at a Media Impact Focus event on Wednesday, November 13, by a panel of media funders, filmmakers, journalists, and practitioners; analyzed in the coming weeks in blogs, columns, and op-ed pieces written by our project advisors and funders; and updated over time to track the story of how media grantmaking is evolving.

Knowledge Tools on Partner Web Sites

The indexed data and baseline research in the report are complemented by free knowledge tools: an interactive media mapping and charting tool and a searchable database of media-related research. Both were created by the Foundation Center but are designed to live on the Media Impact Funders Web site.

What may have been an end point in the past -- a research report -- now is just the beginning. The media mapping and charting tool allows users to slice and dice the comparative baseline data from the report according to their particular needs and interests. But that's not all. At launch, the data visualization tool includes additional data on foundations, grant recipients, and grants from 2009-11; data from 2012 and 2013 from foundations that electronically report their grants data to the Foundation Center; and data from GuideStar on media nonprofit organizations that haven’t received foundation grants.

Media funders who aren't already "on the map" can join in -- we'll refresh the data on a regular basis so their efforts are captured in a timely fashion. It's our hope that, over time, the definitive baseline research profile created by that process is complemented by this tool which allows for the co-creation of a fuller picture of media-related grantmaking by U.S. foundations.

Similarly, the searchable database of media-related research is launching with more than 140 resources identified by our advisory committee. But note: this isn't an isolated e-library; the curated content is part of a networked knowledge management and knowledge sharing system that builds on the collective intelligence of the social sector. As Media Impact Funders adds a new report, it will simultaneously be disseminating it through our larger IssueLab platform, where it can be pushed, pulled, and harvested by the IssueLab network. And with regular additions from the media funding community, we expect it to grow in value as a source of lessons learned for the field.

Harbinger of Good Things to Come

Funded by the Ford, Knight, and Wyncote foundations, the media impact project is an example of our belief in the power of data, research, and technology to improve philanthropy.

In some cases the Foundation Center creates Web sites from scratch, developing custom portals such as BMAfunders.org and WASHfunders.org to serve as timely dashboards for emerging fields like black male achievement or water access, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). In other cases, we’\'re transforming our own tried-and-true services into new-and-improved platforms like Foundation Stats, GrantCraft's Interactive Tool Finder, and Foundation Directory Online Free. At the same time, we believe additional opportunities exist in the "in-between" space: developing knowledge tools based on the needs of partners such as Media Impact Funders and making them accessible where and when needed. In fact, we're currently working with partners on projects related to child protection, democracy, European foundations, historic preservation, immigrants, and women’s funds -- all of which will result in mapping applications or knowledge centers accessed via partner Web sites.

All this activity causes me to think back to something one of my colleagues said in a meeting a few weeks after I joined the Foundation Center: "There's nothing sadder to a researcher than unused data." I was amused at the time, but two years later I'm right there with him. I'm delighted to see Foundation Center data, research, and tools being used — really used — in creative new ways by funders. Against a backdrop of small, medium, big, and open data, we’re experimenting, learning, and iterating with partners. Let us know how we can help.

-- Lisa Philp

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