In his blog ‘Philanthropy’s Data Dilemma’ Foundation Center president Bradford Smith argues: ‘The time has come for foundations to start thinking about everything they do as data.’ He goes on to argue that: ‘most of the (increasingly digitized) concept notes, project proposals, progress reports, evaluations, research, and strategy deliberations produced by foundations are unavailable for mining within individual foundations, across the field, or by anyone else interested in understanding philanthropy’s immense contribution to making a better world … If, and only if, foundations are willing to create the habits and systems needed to more freely share their information with each other and with others will the industry that is philanthropy fully be able to take advantage of the era of Big Data and all that it promises.’
How is data on philanthropy collected and analysed on each side of the Atlantic? What is collected, what isn’t and why isn’t it? Bradford Smith and Rosa Gallego of Donors and Foundations Networks in Europe (DAFNE) compared notes and pondered the need for collaboration between countries and regions in an era when foundations increasingly work across borders.
Bradford Smith What is the state of data on philanthropy in Europe, Rosa?
Rosa Gallego It’s quite uneven, and this is one of our big challenges. Foundations do collect data, but they often do it very much on an individual basis and don’t think how it could be done collaboratively and in a way that could maximize its use for the sector in general. I am afraid that data collection is not yet a major topic for the majority of the sector. There could be various reasons for this. One is that it is not seen as the tool that will allow foundations to do their work better, but maybe more important is that they see it as too expensive and time-consuming.
BS When the project to create the European Foundation Statute was first conceived, the European Union commissioned a study which, among other things, had some very interesting estimates of the assets of European foundations and the amount they spend on their programmes every year. This is the kind of data that the sector needs for policy purposes, but do you think it’s sufficient?