How on earth does anyone know what to fund? That was the question that bothered me and lead to many sleepless nights when I first became a donor.

As a new philanthropist, how was I supposed to figure out what other donors are doing and make informed strategic decisions about who and what to fund?

Well it turned out that I wasn’t alone—the grantmaking sector was hard to navigate unless you were a determined expert.

So after a few years of planning and collaboration, I was excited to witness at October’s NPC Ignites conference that the grantmaking community is making such a strong shift that data and digital has become a core topic on the main stage. It’s now clear to many in the grantmaking sector how central these issues are to our collective impact.

Just look at 360Giving for evidence of grantmakers’ increased willingness to be open. This donor-led initiative showcases the UK’s world class skills in data science, and in only three years has helped nearly 100 foundations realise that the civil society aims that they were formed to address can benefit more if data is opened up.

The result is that grantmakers and grant seekers can save time and be more effective as they can easily search and gain insights from £25 billion worth of grants data.

Crucially there’s support from the Government too, with the commitment in the Civil Society Strategy that they will lead by example on opening up grants data. I was heartened to hear DCMS’s advisor on civil society strategy Danny Kruger reiterate this commitment at the conference.

However, as donors we can’t ask the Government and charities to use data and become more digital if we haven’t got our own house in order. Each donor needs to demonstrate leadership.

This means publishing to the 360Giving open data standard or using user design principles for our websites and the projects we fund.

And that means we have to bring in trustees who have digital skills and to consider those skills as crucial as legal or financial experience. Only then can we be in a position to transform our effectiveness.

360Giving’s recent Data Visualization Awards shows how this data can be brought to life and become accessible to all, irrespective of data expertise. Entries were submitted by 35 designers, data journalists and analysts, showing a wide variety of ways to communicate and compare the reach and interests of UK grantmakers.

By enabling the sector to be seen in the round like this, more data-informed decisions become possible.

By the time of NPC Ignites 2019 I expect this movement to be even clearer, and we’ll be able to show how much more data—by foundations and by local and central Government—is being published to give us the most complete and detailed picture of UK grantmaking ever produced. And becoming a world class data asset for our whole field.

Fran spoke at NPC Ignites 2018, our annual conference to inspire the social sector. Catch up with her on Twitter

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