Foundation Center has strived to strengthen the social sector by advancing knowledge about philanthropy since 1956. Foundation Center’s new tool, Foundation Maps, uncovers more than 3 million grants totaling more than $220 billion made by over 33,000 foundations to nearly 300,000 recipients worldwide.
WINGS managing editor Chris Delatorre exchanged emails with Jake Garcia, Foundation Center’s vice president for data and technology, to see how WINGS members can use Foundation Maps to access the knowledge they need to make strategic decisions and achieve greater impact.
WINGS: Foundation Maps helps funders, nonprofits and philanthropy networks to make more strategic decisions. Give us one scenario of how this might work from inception to fruition.
Jake Garcia: Let’s say that your organization is thinking about expanding its activity to a new area, such as early childhood education. Before you commit resources, you will probably want to gather as much information as possible. You’ll likely want to know who the players are in this field, what they are doing, and how much funding is already going to this area in order to determine the potential for your organization to make a difference.
A great place to start this exploration is with Foundation Maps Professional. You can get answers to your questions by searching for “early childhood education” in the interactive map, focusing on countries or regions of interest, and pulling up a list of funders and recipients working in those areas. Conversely, you can start with the List view to immediately see who is providing the most and least funding for this topic. You can then narrow your results by the last several years or access grant-level information to see the kinds of grants being made. You may also choose to compare funding for early childhood education against overall education funding in the Charts view.
Using Pathways to see the connections between funders and recipients, you’ll be able to identify potential partners for collaboration or knowledge sharing. Having this information at your fingertips will allow you to make informed decisions about where and what to fund. The best part is you can save and export your results to use in future internal conversations, conferences, presentations, or strategic planning sessions.
WINGS: How is Foundation Maps related to Philanthropy In/Sight? How has the tool improved and how will users experience the difference?
JG: Philanthropy In/Sight was Foundation Center’s first major mapping initiative. Over the past four years, in addition to Philanthropy In/Sight, we have simultaneously grown our in-house technical capacity around GIS mapping and other data visualization tools. This has resulted in the kinds of custom maps you may have seen on Foundation Center web portals like WASHfunders.org and BMAfunders.org. As a result of our growing capacity around mapping and visualization tools, we replaced Philanthropy/InSight with Foundation Maps, our premiere data visualization platform. Foundation Maps was developed by an in-house team and with input from a wide variety of end-users and stakeholders. It is a robust, flexible, and user-friendly platform that also serves as the basis for custom maps we create for individual funders and networks of funders.
WINGS: A range of visualization options allows users to see their work in a broader context and explore giving trends over time. How does this data collection/sharing process take local cultures of giving into account, to avoid ‘standardizing’ approaches with which organizations in diverse cultural environments think of and deal with data?
JG: As we work with partners around the world and conduct research about local cultures of giving, we are learning more about the diversity of the landscape. Part of the challenge is that philanthropy means different things in different countries. A specific challenge is how to capture and visualize data on operating foundations doing programmatic work rather than grantmaking for social benefit. There is also the added nuance of differences in types of operating foundations per country. In an effort to better understand and address these diverse cultural environments in which organizations operate, we recently formalized a crosswalking process. This process involves working with in-country experts to derive their insights about the sector within respective countries and ensure that Foundation Center is categorizing these sectors in the most locally accurate context.
Once we have this information, we can then work with these experts to code to our global standards to ensure that we have comparable data across the board, while also keeping the integrity of local cultural context. Admittedly, when normalizing global data, some of the local texture is lost (see OECD, UN, and World Bank for examples). However, we keep the experts with us along the way to ensure the highest quality data possible in this global data sharing exercise.
WINGS: How can ‘revealing connections among and between funders and grantees, and discovering new partners for collaboration’ work for two or more organizations operating on different continents and in different regulatory environments?
JG: Great question! Before connections can be revealed, the data behind the query must be available and comparable. To address availability, Foundation Maps serves as both a tool to a) visualize the data but also to b) advocate for better data by and for the sector. To address comparability, Foundation Center is partnering with in-country experts worldwide to understand the cultural context of the data and to try to establish definitions. Some of our most advanced work to date on this has been with a group of associations in Europe which has not only defined what a public benefit foundation is across Europe but also how many there are and their total assets. The regulatory environments in countries will differ by country and by organization type so not all organizations are legally allowed or encouraged to fund how they want, where they want, and to whom.
However, in studying the data in Foundation Maps, the current possibilities and barriers are easier to see. Where there are possibilities, the data in Pathways will show them and collaborations can be acted upon. Where there are barriers, the data is available to make a compelling case for openness and changes in regulatory structure where needed.