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How to Visualize Philanthropy? Listen. Improve. Repeat.

March 24, 2015

FM_Tight_Network_Example_When Foundation Center was developing Foundation Maps, a platform through which users can explore the world of philanthropy, our staff met with dozens of potential end users. My colleagues connected with foundations, funder networks, philanthropy consultants, and nonprofits — on their home turf, whenever possible — to better understand how they do their work. The goal was to spark ideas for how we could create tools to make their jobs easier. Just as a site visit brings a grantee’s work to life for funders, these user experience (UX) interviews enabled our geographers, programmers, and web designers to deepen their understanding of your needs and envision new possibilities.

Our process can be summed up in three words. Listen. Improve. Repeat.

Listen: We synthesized what we heard from our UX investigation and channeled it into the first iteration of the Foundation Maps application. Features were developed to help target audiences meet their core needs: scanning (funders), member support (funder networks), client service (consultants), and fundraising (nonprofits). We launched Foundation Maps with the ability to visualize funder, recipient, and grant data through a variety of filters with map and list views. The Professional version added even more sophisticated features, including trend charts, demographic overlays, and something we named Pathways (philanthropy's version of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game).

Improve: In our view, a platform like Foundation Maps is never finished; we're constantly striving to make enhancements. To keep it fresh, Foundation Center cleans, codes, and adds new data to the platform every week. We keep a running list of user needs that informs future improvements. We just introduced a free trial with a quick feedback survey. And we plan to keep sharing what we're learning in a free webinar series to be held on the first Wednesday of each month, starting April 1.

Repeat: Meanwhile, suggestions from our original UX interviews continue to inform our development work. For example, we learned there's a critical need to quickly and easily see what funding is happening at the local level, and that has served as guidepost for us, informing our Get on the Map campaign with the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Iterating on this need also led us to create a series of new features for the just-released Foundation Maps Professional 2.0:

  • Area Served: With Foundation Maps Professional 2.0, you can filter grants by geographic area served, enhancing the ability to understand a regional story — whether that region is in the U.S. or in another corner of the world. For example, if a grant is made to an organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, but is for a public health project in India, it will appear on the Area Served map in India, along with grants made to recipients located in India and other grants made to recipients located anywhere but also designated for India.
  • Constellations: Our team also realized that funders are keenly interested in knowing who is and isn't connected within various funding communities, so we kept experimenting with network mapping long after the initial UX work. The result? The new Constellations feature in Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 reveals a broad ecosystem of foundation and recipient relationships that can be filtered by any number of options – for instance, community development grants over $500,000 in the United States or early childhood education in New York City. Or, as in the screenshot above, you can select your own organization and several peers to immediately see the organizations that you fund in common as well as those you support solo.

When it comes to knowledge services, we're going to keep listening to our users, keep striving to improve those services, and keep repeating the process. That's how we learn, and how we can help you visualize the world of philanthropy.

Sign up for a free trial of Foundation Maps Professional 2.0. Tune into our first monthly webinar. And let us know how we can help you use data visualization to explore who is funding what and where.

Lisa Philp is vice president for strategic philanthropy at Foundation Center.

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