There are over 10,000 charitable foundations in the UK, and between them they generate a vast amount of data. But this data has not traditionally been seen as a resource in the same way that money has been. At NPC, we think this is a missed opportunity.
In our new report Valuing data: How to use it in your grant-making we outline how grant-makers can use data at both an individual and a collective level to improve their funding practice. So, drawing from the report’s findings, here are five simple ways that data can improve your giving, with some examples of initiatives already out there:
1. Building a better understanding of needs
Before you can develop a funding strategy or programme, or even select an issue or cause area, you want to understand the needs or the issue you are trying to address. There is a huge amount of data out there, particularly from public sector sources, but it’s not always easily accessible. More funders could take the lead from community foundations that are pulling together a picture of the issues in their local area, for example. Or from CentrePoint’s databank, a resource for anyone interested in the issue of youth homelessness.
2. Helping understand your impact and learn from experience
Data is a fantastic resource—as long as you know what questions you want to ask it. Many interviewees we spoke to are using it to learn and improve. For example, by looking at applications data to see if particular groups or parts of the country might be disadvantaged by the application process, or trialling different ways of presenting data to the board, prompting useful conversations among trustees and staff. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation is combining data about grants with qualitative feedback from applicants and grantees to draw out learning about what works.
3. Showing up patterns and trends
Data can allow you to identify patterns and trends, and provide evidence to confirm or challenge your perceptions. For example, staff at Buttle UK noticed that referral levels had dropped from some areas. They suspected this was due to cuts at referral agencies, rather than any drop in the level of need in those areas. By comparing internal data with census and other public sector data, they can make sure that grants continue to go to where they are needed most. Buttle UK had previously explored patterns in applications, leading the organisation to test whether bigger grants might lead to longer-term benefits for beneficiaries.
4. Supporting collaboration
Pooling data with three other major Scottish funders in order to identify cold spots has allowed the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland to reach communities that its previous, responsive grant-making hadn’t reached. This work has had unexpected benefits: a closer relationship with the Scottish government—which shares a common interest in those communities—as well as support from other major funders, leading to co-funding a strategic programme of community empowerment in some of the areas identified.
5. Providing a resource for others
Funders are used to the idea of providing non-financial support, but how often do we think of data itself as a resource? Data about grants could help charities avoid wasting time on unsuitable applications, through initiatives like Beehive Giving. It would provide information about the sector as a whole to complement NCVO’s Civil Society Almanac. And it could help to build the philanthropy market—data about funding in the environmental sector pulled together by the Environmental Funders Network, for example, is used to advocate for more and better funding into that sector.
These are just five of the many ways that data can improve your giving. For more on these initiatives as well as more examples, take a look at the full report. And we’d love to hear about your own experiences—get in touch or let us know in the comments below.