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Action & Accountability: Why Demographic Data Matters Now
May 28, 2020

Every day we wake up anxiously to frightening new data. The number of cases. The number of deaths. Which country has surpassed another? Who’s flattening the “curve.”  And... that the pandemic’s impact is shockingly disproportionate across race, age, gender, and geography. Due to the living legacies of oppression baked deeply into our social, economic, and political systems, we are seeing that the folks most negatively affected by the crisis are more likely to be Black, Brown, and Native.  In the US especially, we are also seeing a backlash of xenophobia towards Asian and Pacific Islander communities due to efforts to racialize the virus. Add in other intersecting identities like gender identity, age, sexual orientation, immigrant status, justice-system impacted, disability status, and socio-economic class and it becomes clear that those most affected will likely face greater challenges to accessing aid or meeting eligibility requirements for existing support and recovery packages.

Although the scale here is unprecedented, the narrative is a familiar one to us. Prior to the pandemic, CHANGE Philanthropy, PEAK Grantmaking, D5 Compass, and Candid were partnering to raise awareness about the importance of collecting and sharing demographic data. As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect our most vulnerable communities and philanthropy mounts a large scale response to growing needs, we encourage foundations and nonprofits to consider these recommendations in an effort to accurately account for the reach and impact of philanthropic dollars and use this data to address funding gaps to communities most impacted by the crisis.

Our challenge for you: 

  • Review your response strategy with an equity lens. 
  • Move the money simply and equitably.
  • Track your grants' intended impact and community reach.
  • Be transparent by sharing your giving and program data.

Reviewing Your Response Strategy with an Equity Lens 

Billions of dollars are being mobilized to support what will become a lengthy and multi-stage response to both the pandemic and a devastating economic downturn. How they will be invested, and to which organizations and communities, will shape the legacy of philanthropy’s response during this historic crisis. A survey in 2018 by PEAK Grantmaking and Frontline Solutions found that 56% of funders had a formal equity statement. Yet, when PEAK conducted a flash survey of its members it found that so far only around 10% of funders are reporting that they are collecting any demographic data for the leaders or nonprofits or the beneficiaries they serve as part of this rapid response.

This represents an opportunity for foundations to not only to walk the talk around embedding equity into practice, but also to show it. As funders continue to distribute aid addressing COVID-19, it will be imperative for them to document the intended beneficiary community, demographics about the leadership of grantee organizations, and how the organizations are addressing community needs. This kind of focus on demographic data is essential if philanthropy truly wants to assess and improve its track record on equity and inclusion.

Move the Money Simply and Equitably

As the calls for more responsive and streamlined philanthropy grow around the current crisis, grants management professionals—the people inside grantmaking organizations who are managing technology systems, application, and reporting processes, grant agreements, and payments—are leading organizational efforts to adapt grantmaking processes, procedures, technology, and communications. At PEAK Grantmaking, many members have reported that they are already adding fields to their grants management systems to collect data around how money is being spent during this crisis. 

As decision makers are called on to make quick determinations in new settings (many have hosted or attended their very first virtual grant review committee meetings in just the last two months!), it becomes even more important for them to have data to inform their deliberations, ensure that philanthropy’s response is equitable, and take into account communities that have been marginalized or left out of traditional grantmaking practices. It is in these moments of crisis response and recovery that we must make some changes in practice, otherwise, we will default to the philanthropic practices that have only exacerbated inequity.

Track Your Grants’ Intended Impact and Community Reach

Instead of building systems that satisfy the information needs of the few while overshadowing the needs of the system as a whole, we recommend improving transparency and data collection efforts by sharing data that can be accessed by everyone to help inform both crisis response and recovery efforts.

Nonprofits can easily share key details about who they are, whom they serve, and any specific COVID-19 response through the GuideStar Profile Update Program.  Consider asking all applicants to complete the Demographics section. There, organizations can share leadership, board, and staff demographic information as well as equity strategies. The demographic survey was updated last year in partnership with CHANGE philanthropy and Equity at the Center to revise the language and approach to collecting and sharing demographic information. This data can help to inform grantmaking and be integrated later in reporting grant details.  

It sounds counter-intuitive but tracking data about grantees need not be at odds with streamlined, rapid response processes. Common standards, taxonomies, and practices are the bedrock for comparability, analysis, and insight.  The fierce independence of our sector often works against our goals to effect large-scale change with disparate actors who frequently are reticent to share information using common standards. By adopting existing taxonomies and standards foundations can bypass the time it takes to create custom systems, and ensure comparability with peers.

Be Transparent by Sharing Your Giving and Program Data

Now is the time for foundations to go beyond the details they disclose on annual IRS reporting forms (990-PF) and share current, complete, and accurate giving data, especially on COVID-19 response work and specific populations that are intended to benefit from that work.

Candid is actively tracking philanthropy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The public-facing website includes funding opportunities, an interactive map listing awarded grants and grant descriptions, a directory of rapid response funds, and related news items all updated daily at candid.org/coronavirus. Though this effort is currently tracking more than $10 billion in grants, it is incomplete without your data.

Here are some tips to maximize the impact of this reporting: 

  1. If your organization has already funded efforts related to the crisis, please share information on this grantmaking with Candid. Knowing where the money is going and how, and having the latest information from organizations, facilitates thoughtful collaboration and decision making in times of crisis. 
  2. If your organization has established a coronavirus response fund, please let Candid know so we can include it on the list of funds we’re curating. 
  3. If you have never shared grants data before, we recommend using the simplified eReporting template.
  4. Provide detailed grant descriptions. This is the best way to ensure your data will be accurately coded to capture the subject, population, geographic area served, and support strategy you intended and, ultimately, mapped correctly. 
  5. For additional information or assistance with eReporting, email: egrants@candid.org.

 

In closing…

We already know that the impact of this pandemic is tragically inequitable. Let’s take this moment to embed intentionality around demographic data collection and reporting and bake it into our recovery funding practices. These tools and strategies will allow us to be more transparent and accountable about the reach of our pandemic response grantmaking.  If practiced, they will strengthen the field, our ability to analyze the impact, and help future philanthropists understand how to invest in community-based solutions. By combining equitable action response with timely and accurate data collection, philanthropy can avoid past patterns of excluding historically under-served communities from much needed support.

About the Authors

Melissa Sines leads PEAK Grantmaking’s work to identify effective, efficient, and equitable philanthropic practices and advocate for their adoption by grantmakers. She currently serves as Programs and Knowledge Director at PEAK Grantmaking

C. Davis Parchment has long worked to support a social sector driven by better data, research, and analysis. Currently serves as Director of Partnerships-West where she is responsible for elevating and expanding the reach of Candid across the western region by building partnerships and strategies that help to strengthen the social sector.

Kelly Brown is principal consultant at Viewpoint Consulting, which provides program design, research, and analysis to organizations and individuals investing resources to strengthen underserved communities. Previously she led the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance philanthropy through diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Carly Hare (Pawnee/Yankton) strives to live a commitment to advancing equity and community engagement through her professional and personal life. Carly serves as the Coalition Catalyst/National Director of CHANGE Philanthropy.

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  • Transparency Talk, the Glasspockets blog, is a platform for candid and constructive conversation about foundation transparency and accountability. In this space, Foundation Center highlights strategies, findings, and best practices on the web and in foundations–illuminating the importance of having "glass pockets."

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