Data-first philanthropy

Lucy Bernholz

Once upon a time we used paper maps to plan our road trips. Then came GPS systems, which were at first installed only in the most expensive cars. Then GPS became commonplace and even came in our phones. Now, many of us enter an address, get behind the wheel, and follow turn-by-turn directions presented to us by an ever-patient, automated voice coming from the dashboard.

Some of us might impose our own preferences on the GPS, setting it to avoid highways or stay off private roads. Others will simply ignore part of the directions, allowing ‘her’ to keep ‘recalculating route’ until we get past the part of the trip where we already know how we want to go. Fewer and fewer of us are actually unfolding a map, tracing different possibilities with our fingers, and pulling over to the side of the road to choose an alternative route when the scenery gets boring.

That’s what data have done to driving. We’ve subtly shifted our role from route planner to direction follower. Most of us are happy with this change – we get where we wanted to go with fewer headaches (and we never have to try to refold the map).

When data become the GPS of our philanthropy …
Credit Davvi ChrzastekImagine what philanthropy and social investing will look like when they really get built around data. There’s been great discussion and progress made in using data in philanthropy, and this edition of Alliance gives plenty of examples, tools and discussion about the pros and cons. But we’re still at the stage of adding data to existing practices. We haven’t yet started to see new practices emerge out of existing data. When that starts to happen, when data become the GPS of our philanthropy, we’ll see some big changes just as we have in other fields.

 
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