12 posts categorized "Insights"

Finally! A Global (Data) Language!

October 25, 2017

Trying to get global consensus on anything is nearly impossible. But in collaboration with a dynamic cohort of individuals and organizations, we've managed to develop a new manifesto with respect to the structure and sharing of data about global philanthropy that is valued across contexts. Meet the new Global Philanthropy Data Charter.

GDC_infographic
Philanthropy, and more broadly, civil society, play a large and increasingly visible role in solving complex societal issues around the globe. Over the last twenty years, as private wealth in countries around the world has exploded, we've seen a significant increase in giving by institutions and individuals. At the same time, technology adoption and economic populism have emerged from the shadows while foreign aid to the least developed countries has declined. Established in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals paved the way, in 2015, for the multi-stakeholder Sustainable Development Goals. Each step in this evolution was guided by data. Good data? Not always. But in our rapidly changing world, everyone must tell their own story — or risk having it told for them. The good news? Philanthropy has had to become more transparent, more accountable, and more effective. Rather than siloed efforts, maximizing impact based on smart giving and shared learning has become a collective world-wide aspiration.

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Two New Data Tools for the Open Ag Sector

August 14, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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You work at a foundation, government agency, or nonprofit committed to reducing poverty and hunger. Recognizing the importance of agriculture for achieving this goal, you've decided to focus on improving the lives of smallholder farmers, who represent a significant portion of those living on less than $2 a day. You know which regions you want to work in, and now you're trying to determine which value chains you should invest in to create the greatest impact. As part of the Initiative for Open Ag Funding, Foundation Center has two new tools to help you answer that question.

First, an acknowledgment: such a decision requires an analysis of many, many data points. Among the factors to consider are: Which crops are produced by smallholder farmers? Which of those crops have the most potential to increase farmers' income? What does the market for these crops look like? What is the potential for significant productivity gains? Is there the infrastructure needed to get these goods to market? Who else is investing in these particular value chains?

The Initiative for Open Ag Funding focuses on this last question: Who is doing what, where, with whom, and to what effect? And rather than reinvent the wheel, the initiative uses the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data standard as its starting point. IATI aims to improve the transparency of international development and humanitarian resources and activities and has been widely adopted by bilateral and multilateral donors as well as many other organizations. To date, two of Foundation Center's major contributions have been: 1) filling a gap in IATI data; and 2) developing a tool to enrich that data so it better meets the needs of the agriculture sector.

Shedding Light on Foundation Funding for Agriculture

Foundation Center has been collecting and sharing data on foundations' grantmaking for decades. This data has been used to ground philanthropy research, inform grant prospecting, and foster collaboration. Given our comprehensive data on foundation grants and the fact that few foundations have published their data to IATI, we have opened our data on funding for international agriculture and food security activities. This data represents $4.3 billion worth of grants from nearly 1,900 funders to more than 3,000 organizations around the world. In addition to posting the data on the IATI Registry,* we've also made it accessible through a new and publicly available Open Agriculture Data map.

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Making IATI Data More Relevant for Agriculture

At the moment, most data published to IATI is coded with OECD DAC purpose codes or the organization's own subject taxonomy. Early conversations with agricultural practitioners revealed, however, that these categories are not granular enough. In response, we developed an open source agriculture autocoder for the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) AGROVOC thesaurus. Enter a project title, description, or any other text and, using machine learning, the OpenAgClassifier will return codes for terms such as rice or bananas or goats. (You can learn more about our approach to open source in this blog post by my colleague, Dave Hollander.) As a result, what would have been a time-consuming and probably manual process of identifying who is working in, say, the rice value chain is now much faster and easier.

Foundation Center and the Open Ag Funding team know that data and tools alone won't lead to smarter investments or more collaboration. Our goal is simply to give organizations a better starting point for making decisions about where and how to direct their resources. Given the progress of the open data movement, a lack of data or good tools shouldn't be a major reason why organizations duplicate efforts, why Organization A didn't know to go to Organization B to learn more about their approach, or why an organization really making a difference is invisible to those that have the means to support it. Our hope is that by putting the right data and tools at their disposal, we can make it easier for organizations to focus on the harder things about getting development right.

Headshot_laia-grino(*Note: To avoid duplication of data on the IATI Registry, we have removed funders already publishing to IATI from our IATI data.)

Laia Griñó is director of data discovery at Foundation Center. For more posts in the FC Insight series, click here.

'Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy': What Does the Data Say?

July 27, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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It's no secret that many Americans are wondering whether our democracy is still working. The signs of dysfunction are everywhere — allegations of election tampering, voter suppression, and "fake news" comprise a continuous soundtrack accompanying distressingly low levels of electoral turnout, ever more bizarre examples of gerrymandering, and perpetual government gridlock.

Concerns about U.S. democracy are on the minds of America's philanthropic institutions as well. We know, of course, about the "dark money" that is being pumped into the electoral process in an attempt to influence the outcomes of U.S. elections. But what about the efforts of U.S. foundations who see the task of improving U.S. democracy as an important part of their philanthropic missions? (And which, unlike dark money vehicles, are required to disclose information about their giving in publicly available tax documents.)

In partnership with eight foundations, Foundation Center, in 2014, developed Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy, a free online portal that tracks the efforts of foundations to improve American democracy. The tool provides detail on more than 35,000 relevant grants, with additional data added regularly. (Next week, I'll be providing a tour of this mapping platform via a free webinar. Register here.)

Since 2011, U.S. foundations have spent more than $3.7 billion on efforts to improve our democracy. Our data show that foundations are almost equally focused on the areas of encouraging civic participationimproving how government functions at the national, state, and local levels; and supporting an accountable and democratic media, with about  a third of their democracy-focused grant dollars going to each area. Campaigns and elections, the fourth major area of foundation funding for democracy, received about 10 percent of democracy-focused grant dollars. (This adds up to more than 100 percent, because some grants address multiple issues.)

US Democracy_funding by category_fb

These findings suggest that important issues need to be addressed in all four areas — civic participation, government, media, and campaigns and elections — and that focusing on any single area isn't sufficient to ensure a well-functioning democracy. Civic participation funders are focused, in particular, on encouraging issue-based participation by the public; government-focused funders prioritize grantmaking in the area of civil liberties and the rule of law; media-focused funders split their grantmaking almost equally on strengthening journalism and improving media access and policy; and those focused on campaigns and elections are primarily funding activities to educate voters and increase voter turnout.

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Colombia’s Peace Accord: Philanthropy Must Not Miss the Boat

July 20, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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COLOMBIA-PEACE-TREATYThe peace deal and disarmament of FARC in Colombia is a remarkable milestone, but it is still not clear to what extent Colombians are ready to effectively transition from peacemaking to peace building. If it is to be successful, that process must result in full implementation of the accord and the enabling of environments conducive to sustainable peace over the long term.

The historic accord itself does not guarantee peace. While the end of the conflict has created the necessary conditions for peace building and reconciliation, a successful conclusion to the process will require creativity, long-term thinking, and all sectors of society to work together. The good news is that the end of violence means other sectors of society are now able to take part in creating a fairer and more equal Colombia.

In an attempt to engage the philanthropic sector in Colombia in the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16 (promote peace, justice and strong institutions), AFE Colombia and the SDG Philanthropy Platform have issued a report, Peace and Sustainable Development in Colombia: The Role of Philanthropy in Building a Shared Future, that aims to serve as a catalyst for new thinking by and dialogue between key stakeholders in the peace process. The report also provides concrete recommendations that local and international philanthropic organizations can act on to support Colombia's transition toward peace.

The current landscape

Colombia is a deeply unequal country. As such, it needs philanthropic organizations and actors to bring their resources and expertise to conflict-affected regions. More often than not, these are underdeveloped rural areas in dire need of social investment. To make the peace deal a reality on the ground will require stakeholders to come together and rethink the ways in which different actors and sectors in these areas interact and cooperate with each other.

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Because What You Know Shouldn't Just Be About Who You Know

July 11, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center's work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Knowledge is obsolete." As a librarian, my ears perked up when someone shared the title of this TEDxFoggyBottom talk. It's plausible. Why memorize obscure, hard-to-remember facts when anything you could possibly want to know can be looked up, on the go, via a smartphone? As a mom, I imagine my kids sitting down to prepare for rich, thought-provoking classroom discussions instead of laboring over endless multiple-choice tests. What an exciting time to be alive — a time when all of humanity's knowledge is at our fingertips, leading experts are just a swipe away, the answer always literally close at hand, and we've been released from the drudgery of memorization and graduated to a life of active, informed debate! And how lucky are we to be working in philanthropy and able to leverage all this knowledge for good, right?

Open-for-good_featureforeground

Though the active debate part may sound familiar, sadly, for too many of us working in philanthropy, the knowledge utopia described above is more sci-fi mirage than a TED Talk snapshot of present-day reality. As Foundation Center's Glasspockets team revealed in its "Foundation Transparency Challenge" infographic last November, only 10 percent of foundations today have a website, and not even our smartphones are  smart enough to connect you to the 90 percent of those that don't.

The Foundation Transparency Challenge reveals other areas of potential improvement for institutional philanthropy, including a number of transparency practices not widely embraced by the majority of funders. Indeed, the data we've collected demonstrates that philanthropy is weakest when it comes to creating communities of shared learning, with fewer than half the foundations with a Glasspockets profile using their websites to share what they are learning, only 22 percent sharing how they assess their own performance, and only 12 percent revealing details about their strategic plan.

Foundation Center data also tells us that foundations annually make an average of $5.4 billion in grants for knowledge-production activities such as evaluations, white papers, and case studies. Yet only a small fraction of foundations actively share the knowledge assets that result from those grants — and far fewer share them under an open license or through an open repository. For a field that is focused on investing in ideas — and not shy about asking grantees to report on the progress of these ideas — there is much potential here to open up our knowledge to peers and practitioners who, like so many of us, are looking for new ideas and new approaches to urgent, persistent problems.

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Abdul Latif Jameel: Empowering Communities to Help Themselves

June 27, 2017

At the annual summit of the Family Business Council-Gulf (FBCG) in Dubai, Foundation Center's Lisa Philp led a plenary session on philanthropy in action in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. She was joined by Hassan Jameel, deputy president and vice chair, Abdul Latif Jameel Domestic Operations, and Caroline Seow, director of sustainability, Family Business Network International. Philp is working with FBCG and FBN International to shine a light on thoughtful and sustainable philanthropy in the GCC. This post — part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work — is an adaptation of a case study she wrote on lessons learned from Community Jameel.

Jameel_philpAbdul Latif Jameel is an international diversified business with operations in seven major industries — transportation, engineering and manufacturing, financial services, consumer products, land and real estate, advertising and media, and energy and environmental services. Founded in 1945 as a small trading business that later evolved into a Toyota distributorship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the company has achieved this scale and market success in just over seven decades.

The company's entrepreneurial founder, the late Abdul Latif Jameel, saw that better personal transportation could empower businesses and individuals and, in turn, advance the economic development of his nation. With that vision to guide him, he established an extensive operations infrastructure and over time built the largest vehicle distribution network in Saudi Arabia. Along the way, the company developed comprehensive expertise across the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (or "MENAT"), the region in which it operates, fashioning a reputation for building the "infrastructure of life." Today, Abdul Latif Jameel has a presence in more than 30 countries and employs 17,000 people from over 40 nationalities.

Jameel was a visionary and dynamic entrepreneur who dedicated his family and company to meeting the needs of his fellow Saudis. In 2003, Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who had been named chair and CEO of the company a decade earlier, created Abdul Latif Jameel Community Services, or "Community Jameel," as it is known today. Community Jameel has evolved into a sustainable social enterprise organization focused on six priority areas: job creation, global poverty alleviation, food and water security, arts and culture, education and training, and health and social. From its headquarters in Jeddah, the organization coordinates a rage of programs focused on the development of individuals and communities in the MENAT region and beyond.

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Show Me: Why Your Data Should Be Seen (and Not Just Read)

June 19, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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"Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

So proclaimed Willard Duncan, a Missouri congressman, in an 1899 speech. Perhaps because I, too, hail from the Show-Me state, I have taken his advice to heart. Now let me convince you of its wisdom.

First let's talk about data. Nonprofit organizations are lousy with it — participant data, program data, financial data, sales data, fundraising data. Nonprofits are drinking from a fire hose and the water pressure is building. We are scrambling just to find enough bandwidth to store our data. And like secretive hoarders, we are reluctant to admit how little of this data we actually use. We may pay lip service to "evidence-based practices" or "data-driven strategies," or even borrow acronyms like ROI (return on investment) and KPI (key performance indicator) from the for-profit world. But, when pressed, many nonprofit managers admit they are not data people. They care deeply about people and programs, but their eyes glaze over at the sight of a spreadsheet.

It's okay: we're wired that way. (More on our wiring in a minute.) But for now, let's look at some other reasons why nonprofits may not be making good use of their data.

Top Reasons Nonprofits Avoid Data

Nonprofits avoid data for any number of understandable reasons. In my experience, the primary causes include:

Data animus. Many nonprofit staff members possess expertise in environmental issues, the arts, health, or education but not data analysis. Some suffer from data aversion. They admit — or sometimes proudly proclaim — that they are not "numbers people."

Time. Nonprofit staffers do not have time for data analysis. They are struggling to stay afloat, to submit the next proposal, to sustain their programs, to address the huge and varied needs of their clientele, to cultivate donors. As a result, digging through data is almost always a back-burner item.

Fear. Some worry about what their data might reveal. They fear they won't be able to control the narrative, that the data will be taken out of context, or that funders will withdraw their support based on the data.

"Dirty" data. Many nonprofits have entry-level staff or multiple staff entering data into management information systems or spreadsheets. The result can be "dirty" data — data with a troubling level of inaccuracy because it has not been entered correctly and/or consistently. If, for example, Michael Smith is entered twice, once with a middle initial and once without, then tracking his progress through your program will be difficult.

Wrong data. While many nonprofits have data on their financials and clients, they often lack data that demonstrates the positive social impact of their programs. A tutoring program may not track students' school grades or test scores. An employment program may lack data on program graduates' wages over time.

Disconnected data. Rather than maintaining a central management information system, small nonprofits often store their data in separate Excel spreadsheets. Which means Michael Smith's demographic profile might be captured in one spreadsheet while his attendance in various programs is stored in another, making analysis of, say, age-to-program participation next to impossible.

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The Brave New World of Open Source

May 09, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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OpensourceAllow me to introduce myself. My name is Dave Hollander, and I'm a data scientist here at Foundation Center. The role of a data scientist is to use techniques from statistics and computer science to make sense of and draw insights from large amounts of data. I work on the Application Development team, which engineers the code in Foundation Center products you use, including Foundation Maps and the new search tool that was launched as part of the redesign of foundationcenter.org.

Like nearly every software development team, the members of the center's Application Development team share code among ourselves as we work on new projects. This allows us to work on smaller parts of a larger machine while simultaneously ensuring that all the parts fit together. The individual parts are assembled during the development phase and eventually comprise the code base that powers the final product. When finished, that code lives internally on our servers and in our code repositories, which, in order to protect the intellectual property contained within, are not visible to the outside world. The downside to keeping our code private is that it does not allow for talented programmers outside Foundation Center to review the code, suggest improvements, and/or add their own entirely new twists to it.

We plan to change that this year.

Open-source software (OSS) is a term for any piece of code that is entirely visible and freely available to the public. Anyone can pull open-source code into their computer and either use it for a personal project or change it and "contribute" those changes back to the original project. Open source is not strictly related to code, however. Wikipedia, which allows anyone to create an account for free and edit articles and entries, is also an example of an open-source project. To ensure a high-level of quality throughout, submissions to Wikipedia are evaluated by volunteer editors, and while a bad entry may sneak through on occasion, the Wikipedia community eventually will find it, review it, and amend it.

Open-source code projects work in much the same way as Wikipedia, but rather than editing text, users edit code and then submit their changes back to the project. The process can be a challenge to monitor, but today there are tools available that make it relatively easy to manage the edits of multiple users and prevent source-code conflicts. The most popular is GitHub, a free service that serves as a repository for code projects and allows any user to make copies of any other project hosted on the platform. Once a project on GitHub is copied, the user can make changes to the original code, or use the code for his or her own purposes.

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More Than a School

April 25, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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SDG_schoolsAs a unifying, universal agenda for countries around the world, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a unique opportunity to deliver innovative solutions and much-needed development assistance to the world's poorest countries and regions. Philanthropists the world over have answered this rallying cry and are playing a critical role in filling technical and funding gaps between what is required and what is available, while also providing important intellectual capital. While the current impact of these efforts is not to be underestimated, it is crucially important that philanthropic dollars are directed in the right way, to the right projects, at the right time. Without lasting buy-in from populations and communities targeted by these investments, impact can fade rapidly and disappear altogether over time. But to really have an impact, this funding needs to go beyond standalone projects and contribute to longer-term systems change.

Here's an example of what we're talking about. A foundation or individual donor decides to pay for the construction of a new school in an impoverished village. The odds are good that, when built, the school will have an immediate impact on the local population. But if the school is not supported by parents and local stakeholders, there's a decent chance that, within a few years, it will fall into disrepair. To achieve real, lasting impact, the school should be viewed as a community-based project that, among other things, provides local youth with a competency-based curriculum and skills training that prepares them for market-driven employment opportunities.

These are real-world challenges for philanthropic investment

It is critically important that philanthropists (and other social investment types) understand the complex development "ecosystems" of the countries in which they work. Why? Because no issue is an island, and many issues overlap in a complex web of cause and effect. Those wanting to have a long-lasting impact in a country must understand this reality, invest wisely, and work with local and national stakeholders to make sure the solutions they support truly are sustainable.

One thing we have seen time and again in the development field is philanthropy and government not working with each other. This often leads to missed opportunities for collaboration, additional funding, and innovation. Philanthropy can benefit from the public sector's knowledge of current policy and development frameworks, the specific and interrelated needs of the target population, and details about what has, and has not, worked in the past. Similarly, governments too often miss out on philanthropy's deep field knowledge, agility, and tolerance of risk. To improve this situation, we believe philanthropy and government need to locate where their interests converge, identify instances where they can collaborate, and share lessons learned.

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A Multi-Pronged Approach to Impact Investing for Family Foundations

April 12, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Socially-responsible-investingOne hundred percent of foundations and philanthropists have set up their portfolios for "impact." But in the words of Heron Foundation CEO Clara Miller, "they just don't know if their impact is positive or negative."

The assumption has been that foundations and philanthropists would be among the earliest adopters of investment strategies that align their portfolios, their values, and the social change they are trying to achieve. Sadly, this has not been the case.

According to the Global Impact Investing Network's 2016 Annual Impact Investor Survey, foundations in 2016 accounted for only 4 percent of an estimated $77.4 billion in impact investment assets under management. At the same time, there is much in the report to be excited about, starting with the finding that survey respondents indicated a high level of satisfaction with the performance of their impact investment portfolios. In fact, "[e]ighty-nine percent (89%) reported financial performance in line with or better than their expectations, and 99% reported impact performance in line with or better than expectations."

There are many foundation leaders who are well aware of the potential of impact investing to drive social and environmental change. Liesel Pritzker Simmons, principal of Blue Haven Initiative, captures the sentiment of a growing number of philanthropists: "Just your philanthropic dollars are not enough to solve big world problems. We have a responsibility to use everything we have to make an impact."

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Advocacy Funder Collaboratives

April 07, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback. To access the complete suite of advocacy funder collaborative resources, visit Foundation Center's GrantCraft.org site.

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"Funders need to collaborate more." How many times have we heard that?

The good news: Funders are collaborating more. Today, there are all kinds of learning networks, aligned funding and strategy associations, affinity groups, and other structures that are making it easier for grantmakers to collaborate.

Many funders, however, are still apprehensive about funding advocacy. A Foundation Center analysis of a sample of the largest funders demonstrates that only 12.8 percent of overall foundation grantmaking explicitly supports policy, advocacy, and systems reform. The Atlantic Philanthropies observes that advocacy funding is too often "the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants."

Multi-party_Advocacy_IL

It's an easy road to avoid. Publicly taking a stand on controversial issues can be dicey for foundation leaders, and supporting advocacy can be complex, time-intensive, and risky. Stir the varied interests, goals, and personalities of a diverse group of funders into the mix and it becomes even more daunting.

Given the deepening concern — and increasing activism — sparked by the recent change of administration in the U.S., that may be changing. Wherever you stand on the issues, it is hard to ignore the dramatic upswing in advocacy activity since the election. Some of it involves collaboratives successfully bringing together funders to advance important issues through public policy campaigns, communications, research, and strategic grantmaking. And they are getting results, despite the obstacles in their way.

If we're to overcome the inevitable concerns about joining an advocacy collaborative and understand what makes them successful, we need to ask: What distinguishes an advocacy collaborative from other kinds of collaboratives? For an answer, we spoke with several advocacy collaborative stakeholders. This is what we heard:

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Apocalypse Later? Philanthropy and Transparency in an Illiberal World

March 02, 2017

The following post is part of a year-long series here on PhilanTopic that addresses major themes related to the center’s work: the use of data to understand and address important issues and challenges; the benefits of foundation transparency for donors, nonprofits/NGOs, and the broader public; the emergence of private philanthropy globally; the role of storytelling in conveying the critical work of philanthropy; and what it means, and looks like, to be an effective, high-functioning foundation, nonprofit, or changemaker in the twenty-first century. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback.

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Open-Data-470x352How long will it be before nonprofit transparency takes its place alongside diceros bicornis on the endangered species list? Hopefully never, but in a world that's growing more technologically sophisticated and more illiberal, I'm beginning to think that if it's not Apocalypse Now, maybe it's Apocalypse Later.

The value of transparency

Transparency has been a boon to the philanthropic sector, making it possible for organizations like Foundation Center, Guidestar, the Urban Institute, Charity Navigator, and others to create searchable databases spanning the entire nonprofit and foundation universe. Our efforts, in turn, contribute to responsible oversight, help nonprofits raise funds to pursue their missions, and fuel online platforms that enable donors to make better giving choices. Transparency also enables foundations to collaborate more effectively, leverage their resources more efficiently, and make real progress on critical issues such as black male achievement, access to safe water, and disaster response. The incredibly rich information ecosystem that undergirds the American social sector is the envy of others around the globe — not least because it gives us a clear view of what nonprofit initiative can accomplish, how it compares and contrasts with government, and how social, economic, and environmental issues are being addressed through private-public partnerships.

Where we are today

Federal law — U.S. Code, Title 26, Section 6104 — stipulates that public access to Form 990, a federal information form that tax-exempt organizations are required to file annually, must be provided promptly on request at the exempt organization's office or offices, or within thirty days of a written request. However, exempt organizations don't have to provide copies of their Forms 990 if they make these materials broadly available through the Internet, or if the IRS determines that the organization is being subject to a harassment campaign.

In 2015, Carl Malamud, the Don Quixote of open data, dragged transparency into the digital age when he brought suit against the Internal Revenue Service to force it to make the 990s of a handful of organizations that had been filed electronically available as machine-readable open data. Malamud won, and, somewhat surprisingly, the IRS then did more rather than less to comply with the order: as of June 2016, all Forms 990 filed electronically by 501(c)(3) organizations are available as machine-readable open data through Amazon Web Services. As such, they can be downloaded directly in digital form and processed by computers with minimal human intervention. The development represents a victory not only for Malamud but for the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project, which has toiled for years to make 990s more accessible. The idea, of course, is that free, open data on nonprofits will enable more innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs to use the data in ways that help make the sector more effective and efficient. Since Malamud won his case, the IRS has posted some 1.7 million Forms 990 as machine-readable open data.

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