Global Philanthropy Data Charter — not a document but a development process

The following is a report from the WINGSForum Concurrent Workshop, “The Global Data Charter—Because Data is Worth It”, held on Thursday, 27 March 2014 in Istanbul. View this and other recaps in the full WINGSForum 2014 Conference Report.

Building on a key theme of the morning plenaries, this session introduced WINGS’ work in elaborating what it calls the Global Philanthropy Data Charter—a set of principles and a framework to improve the use of data. This first version of the Charter, said Ana Pinho of WINGS, came out of a meeting in Rio de Janeiro and three webinars involving between 60 and 70 people. The findings of this were consolidated in a second meeting and will be reviewed next year. It was, stressed Barry Knight, one of the panelists, ‘not a document, but a development process’.

Fellow presenter Patrick Collins outlined the difficulties involved. First, when it comes to something new, he observed, everyone wants someone else to go first. The Charter could help by collecting and publicizing successes. Second, and related to this, follow-up is difficult. It needs public commitment from a few foundations to make it work. That’s why the Data Charter is signed: it involves a symbolic commitment which is more likely to be binding than a verbal indication of intent. Third, foundations seldom have the expertise to act on the precepts of the Charter so they need outside resources. That is where associations as a central and coordinating resource come in. The Charter will both persuade associations to do this and give them a means to do it. Finally, there is the familiar question of funding. People, said Collins, want data to be free, but free data is often not useful. Its cleaning and management can be dear.


In the Middle East and the Arab region, said Heba Abou Shnief of the Gerhart Center for Philanthropy, philanthropy is being transformed, with new forms of giving developing alongside more traditional, but also changing, forms. However, there is no comprehensive survey of giving, which affects its visibility and coordination. There are few infrastructure organizations, openness is lacking, and panelists about the value of data is common. The Charter will be useful in drawing lessons from other areas (enabling the region to ‘leapfrog’ one or more stages of development) and in advocating for the collection and sharing of data.

In response to questions about its use, the panelists stressed that the Charter is enabling, not prescriptive. It is meant to provide a common understanding of the different elements of philanthropic research. It can be tailored for different contexts. Rosa Gallego wondered about having some form of ‘badge’ of compliance that organizations could put on their website—and in fact such a step is planned.

What the Charter doesn’t do at the moment is give guidance on putting data collection into practice. That is seen as the next level, to be informed by the experiences of those who are implementing it. Some of these were actually in the room. One of them, Brad Smith, said the Charter has made the Foundation Center more sensitive about imposing data standards on others; he sees it as the start of building a global data system on philanthropy. Hans Fleisch of the Association of German Foundations (BDS), another early implementer, said that, despite the fact that BDS already has an extensive database, the Charter has been valuable in providing grounds for comparison with other national associations. Common principles, he argued, give rise to common questions. He suggested meetings of people who use the Charter to create conversations and pilots in different regions to sample the experience of using it in a wide spread of places.

There is still a long way to go, Collins emphasized. Most foundations don’t even have specific roles for the collection, analysis and management of data, whereas in the private sector every company has a data group. We need to learn from this, to take tools from other sectors and adapt them.

Following a series of consultations worldwide, the Global Philanthropy Data Charter was launched at WINGSForum 2014 in Istanbul, Turkey. 


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