October 06, 2014
It wasn't so long ago that I first heard the term "big data." At the time, I didn't give it much thought. After all, I'm the executive director of a regional association of grantmakers – there are lots of research facilities, academic centers, affinity groups, and data geeks out there collecting and analyzing data in our field. What could I possibly add to the conversation?
Now I know – and not only do I want you to know, I want you to join me in spreading the word about Foundation Center's eReporting Program. Simply put, regional associations of grantmakers can play a critical role in building the information infrastructure that supports a more vibrant and effective nonprofit sector. We can help to harness the grants data of nearly six thousand funders and centralize it in a way that makes it more readily available to inform every aspect of our work – from collaborations, to research, to due diligence, to strategic investments. And we can help fill in the picture of what is currently happening in our sector – still a surprising need in 2014, given our expectations for the availability of real-time information in just about every other aspect of our lives.
For me, the light bulb started to glow with a research project on giving to communities of color by Oregon funders. Working with Foundation Center and a group of local funders who were interested in understanding how – or whether – their funding reflected the demographic changes happening in our region, we produced a report, Grantmaking to Communities of Color in Oregon. In the process, we realized we didn't have the inputs needed to create great outputs. Working primarily with two-year-old tax forms that had grant descriptions like "For the library project," we soon realized that while the report marked an important step based on the data we had, it didn't necessarily provide a complete picture. And because many funders weren't coding their grants, other entities were drawing their own conclusions about where funding was being directed and deciding, as best they could, who was benefiting from the grant. Not exactly a best practice.