How are we making the philanthropic sector stronger globally?

We eat, sleep and breathe data. Our commitment to data sharing and transparency dates back to our founding but reliable data on philanthropy is lacking in most countries, and globally comparable data is virtually nonexistent. What is data? Why is it important? What kind of data should we be collecting? We get these questions often. To help answer them, we bring you the revised Global Philanthropy Data Charter.

Explore the Global Philanthropy Data Charter >

Coming in the wake of congressional allegations about foundation activity at the height of McCarthyism, Foundation Center was born out of a belief that philanthropy would be best served by proving that it had nothing to hide. We opened our doors to the public in 1956, with an original focus on making the world of foundations more transparent by collecting and sharing data about U.S. foundations. While our programs and services have evolved, transparency continues to be one of our core priorities.

Today, many countries find themselves in a similar situation where the space for civil society is closing and, rather than being transparent, the tendency is to react with fear and share less about their work. With an increase in organized philanthropy around the world, we believe that the only way to dispel mistrust is by telling your story rather than hiding behind it. Using data and knowledge, and maintaining appropriate data security, we can build public trust, inform decisions and actions for increased impact, and make philanthropy more effective.

Over the past two years, Foundation Center and Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) worked together with more than forty practitioners from over twenty countries to get a better understanding of what the needs for data are around the world. The result was the revised Global Philanthropy Data Charter, a framework that highlights the importance of data sharing and aims to build global consensus on how to collect, use, and share data more effectively. The data charter gives us: a statement of values and principles that can serve as a guiding framework for the collection and use of philanthropic data; a better idea of who the stakeholders in the data ecosystem are as well as their needs; and a series of steps designed to achieve the goal of “good data for greater impact.”

Hear Lauren Bradford, our Director of Global Partnerships, and Inga Ingulfsen, our Research Analyst, Global Partnerships, talk about the Global Philanthropy Data Charter.



One of the challenges the data charter highlights is the lack of capacity and skills needed for collecting, processing, and using data. Nonprofits and foundations around the world are collecting data in many forms from handwritten notes to lengthy spreadsheets. But how do we use such disparate data? We have tried to address this issue with our Data Capacity Building Program, which allows us to provide a more hands-on approach to helping organizations understand the value of and need for data in their work and how to collect it. By strengthening long-term relationships through a series of workshops and facilitated listening exercises with local stakeholders, the program helps to develop sustainable, locally owned, and contextually relevant data strategies. We have already begun implementing this program in a number of countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Ghana, and in regions like the Middle East and North Africa.

Check out the progress we’ve made on this work >

“If we want to truly be global partners, we have to start from a vantage point of being partners, not being part of a very extractive business around data.”

Inga Ingulfsen, global partnerships research analyst

Inga Ingulfsen, global partnerships research analyst, believes that, “As the leading source of philanthropic data in the U.S. and around the world, we have a certain level of responsibility to work with existing civil society structures to build their capacities to tell their own stories, to be part of the data process, and to have ownership over that process. Most international databases fail to capture and accurately represent the work of civil society, especially of civil society organizations based in the Global South. So if we want to truly be global partners, we have to start from a vantage point of being partners, not being part of a very extractive business around data.” As a result of long, creative, iterative processes we’re listening to people and their needs, and helping them build a knowledge bank for the sector which in turn will help achieve greater impact in the long run.

Explore More:
FC Global Work >
The history of foundation transparency >
How to balance transparency and data protection in sensitive contexts >