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Do You Know?

November 04, 2013

(Larry McGill is vice president for research at the Foundation Center.)

FCStats_about_illustrationRaise your hand if you know the answer to the following question: How many grant dollars did U.S. foundations award in 2011? Anyone?

Let me ask a different question. If you needed to find the answer to that question, where would you go? Foundation Center? Good -- you're on the right track. So, you visit the Foundation Center's Web site and where do you look? Not sure? In the past, you weren't alone.

But all that has changed. Today, the Center is launching a new, free statistical tool called "Foundation Stats" at data.foundationcenter.org.

The answer to almost every basic statistical question about the collective work of U.S. foundations can be found there. You don't have to buy any publications and you don't have to dig through thousands of static data tables on the center's Web site. Plus, you can download and reuse, for free, any of the statistics you find in Foundation Stats. You can even grab these statistics using an application programming interface (API), if you're so inclined.

Usually, I'm not so shamelessly self-promotional, but I can barely contain my excitement about Foundation Stats. Let me tell you why.

First, I have long believed that certain kinds of basic statistical data about the work of U.S. foundations should be widely known and understood by anyone who works in this field. Everyone should know, for example, how many active grantmaking foundations there are in the United States, how much they give collectively every year, how their giving breaks down across subject areas, and how their giving has changed over time. To my mind, Socrates' dictum "Know thyself" applies every bit as much to fields as it does to individuals.

Second, in order for this kind of knowledge to effectively propagate across the field, the information has to be easy to find and freely available. Foundation Stats does that.

Third, it's really easy to use. Like you, I have little patience for online tools that don't provide any kind of genuine payoff within the first fifteen seconds of use. If you visit Foundation Stats, I guarantee that within fifteen seconds you will have learned at least three interesting facts about U.S. foundations and will be eagerly trying out different ways to look at the data -- by state, by subject area, by foundation type, and more. Try clicking on a Top 50 Foundations list and see what pops up.

Fourth, Foundation Stats works on your mobile phone!

Fifth, just when you think you’ve figured out everything that Foundation Stats can do, you will discover yet one more way it lets you sort or visualize data. (Tip: If you think something might happen by clicking on it, click on it. You'll be rewarded often.)

The only piece of "insider" information you need to know in order to use Foundation Stats effectively is that it relies on two different sets of data to produce the charts, tables, and graphs that you see. These two data sets correspond to the FOUNDATIONS tab and the GRANTS tab at the top of the page. If you click on the FOUNDATIONS tab, you'll see that our statistics about foundations are based on summary-level data from nearly 82,000 U.S. foundations. If you click on the GRANTS tab, you’ll see that our statistics about foundation grantmaking are based on nearly 150,000 grants awarded by 1,000 of the largest U.S. foundations. These 1,000 foundations account for almost exactly half of all grant dollars awarded by U.S. foundations each year. (We wish we could include every grant awarded by every foundation, but even the Foundation Center has capacity limits!)

We call this set of foundations the FC 1000. To the extent possible, we’ll strive to keep this set constant from year to year so that trends over time can be meaningfully generated. This addresses a past concern raised by some that the number and consistency of foundations in our grants data set varies too much from year to year. Going forward, it essentially will be the same 1,000 foundations in the set every year, with adjustments made from time to time as the field grows and changes, which it will. Generally speaking, the FC 1000 will provide a consistent barometer in the years ahead of the giving patterns of the largest foundations in the United States.

And the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this post?

Go to data.foundationcenter.org and click on the FOUNDATIONS tab and see how quickly you can uncover the answer. Happy hunting!

-- Larry McGill

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