Slow to jump on the data bandwagon?

Florence Miller

We were delighted to see Alliance’s dedication to data in the last issue. At the UK-based Environmental Funders Network (EFN), we are committed to the idea that data can help drive effective philanthropy, focusing our energies on gathering the ‘market intelligence’ that Larry McGill calls for. We have spent eight years developing a longitudinal database of nearly 12,000 grants from UK trusts and foundations working on environment and conservation. The resulting Where the Green Grants Went series of reports has provided environmental funders with new insights into the supply side of the grants market: which issues, approaches and geographies are particularly well funded and which are not; the organizations receiving the bulk of foundation and trust giving; comparisons with international levels of funding; and astonishing details such as the fact that, in 2009/10, total grants from UK foundations towards mitigating climate change added up to £15.8 million while the National Galleries spent £50 million to purchase a single painting.

In addition, we have been involved in parallel initiatives with funders abroad, such as Tracking the Field, a US Environmental Grantmakers Association report that captures the supply side of the US grants market, and Environmental Funding by European Foundations: A snapshot, in collaboration with the European Foundation Centre. Environmental grantmaker networks in Canada and Australia have also carried out research of this kind.

Environmental foundations have also been mapping the grantee field – for example the Food Issues Census, commissioned by six foundations within EFN. Soon EFN will be embarking on a broader study of the environmental sector as a whole.

This attention to data seems to be paying off. In a recent survey of EFN participants, over three-quarters of respondents indicated that participation in the network has improved their grant practice.

So while we agree that we could always use more data and better analysis, we’re not sure that we would entirely agree that ‘private philanthropy … has been slow to jump on the data bandwagon’.  There is certainly innovative work going on within environmental philanthropy in terms of mapping flows of both grants and grantees.  Furthermore we would welcome opportunities to compare notes with funders working on other philanthropic issues.

Florence Miller

Coordinator, Environmental Funders Network

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