Jeff Falkenstein—philanthropy taxonomy needs your help

For more on the Philanthropy Classification System and to contribute to the process, visit the Taxonomy Draft Review online.


The Foundation Center is inviting the sector to provide feedback on proposed changes to its Philanthropy Classification System by 23rd May. The goal is not to create yet another standard, but to work towards creating a more broadly adopted standard that more accurately reflects the work of the field and can serve as a more relevant tool for a 21st Century global philanthropy community. In our latest interview, Jeff Falkenstein, the Foundation Center’s Vice President for Data Architecture, explains why an extensive taxonomy is good for the sector, and how developing global partnerships is key.

WINGS: Why is having a functioning philanthropy taxonomy important to the sector?

Jeff Falkenstein: A philanthropic taxonomy allows for the classification on Foundations, Nonprofits, and other NGOs and philanthropic actors, what sectors they work in, what population groups they serve, what geographic areas they work in, and more. In the US, organizations like the US Internal Revenue Service, US Foundation Center,GuideStar US, TechSoup Global, the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), and countless grantmaking and nonprofit organizations classify the work of the US nonprofit sector using the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE). This taxonomy enables grantseekers to find targeted support, helps funding organizations collaborate and identify potential grantees, and assists researchers and academics who are analysing the work of the social sector. But it’s not enough.

WINGS: How does the Foundation Center currently organise its classification system? How can a revised system improve on NTEE and include a broader global audience?

JF: Through the years the Center has worked with various actors across the philanthropic sector to help evolve the NTEE and develop deeper coverage on many topics, including water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); human rights; and disability and sexuality issues. In 2012, to better meet the sector’s growing global needs, the Center began an extensive revision of our Grants Classification System, reexamining the codes included in the taxonomy as well as the overall structure, and here we are today with our new Philanthropy Classification System.

WINGS: How might this meet the needs of philanthropy in a networked world?

JF: The Foundation Center has been revising the overall classification system to make it more relevant for a globalised 21st Century audience. For example, we have added a new section to the field of activities related to information and media, and created a new facet to capture the various forms of philanthropy that happen around the world. We hope that the updated taxonomy will fill in many gaps in the current NTEE and allow for a deeper global social sector analysis.

As we’ve expanded our work internationally, it has become clear that the NTEE is too limited for global reach. When working with our partners at the China Foundation Center (CFC), for example, we both realised that the NTEE didn’t quite fit their needs so they assessed the taxonomy and adapted it for their own audience, but they didn’t build something completely new. While the taxonomies are not identical, they overlap by more than 90%. This allows us to work very closely with CFC to easily compare the work of Chinese and US foundations.

Working on projects in specific sectors like human rights, we’ve found that agreed upon standards like those developed in unison with the International Human Rights Funders Group, Ariadne, and the International Network of Women’s Funds, added a global perspective and therefore greater buy-in for all of their members, which in turn allowed for easier collection and comparative analysis of the data of all three organizations. These experiences have made us acutely aware that we need to do a better job of listening and that we have a lot to learn from our global partners, who each bring a valuable perspective that will help improve communication, collaboration, and knowledge generation about global philanthropy.

It is in the spirit of this kind of collaboration that we are inviting the sector to participate and provide feedback on the Foundation Center’s revised taxonomy. To learn more about the Philanthropy Classification System and contribute to the process, visit the Taxonomy Draft Review page and send us your feedback by by 23rd May 2014.

WINGS: Any connection between the taxonomy project and the Global Philanthropy Data Charter?

The Global Philanthropy Data Charter intends to act as a framework to guide organizations in the sector as they set out to improve philanthropy data, while acknowledging the diversity of context, culture, and legal framework within which these organizations operate. The Philanthropy Classification System is a potential tool in helping that vision come to life. People new to taxonomy need not worry about the size and scale of this new system. They can focus on the pieces that are relevant to them and set aside the rest of the terminology. The idea is to develop a common framework for social sector actors, be they foundations, NGOs or grantmaker support organizations.

The Foundation Center is inviting the sector to review and provide feedback on its proposed changes by 23rd May. For more on the Philanthropy Classification System and to contribute to the process, visit the Taxonomy Draft Review online. Have a question? Please contact Jeff at Image courtesy Foundation Center. More WINGS interviews here.

3 thoughts on “Jeff Falkenstein—philanthropy taxonomy needs your help

  1. Pingback: A Framework To Communicate Philanthropy

  2. The update is timely. We are in the process of reviewing our own coding system for the very purposes you identify. The proposed draft is very helpful. We appreciate having an opportunity to review the draft and plan to respond.


  3. Pingback: A framework to communicate philanthropy | Philanthropy In Focus

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