As we move into 2015, we are witnessing a fairly dynamic and aggressive set of changes in the world of philanthropy. Transparency and communication are both playing a large role in these changes.
I am not a big proponent of referencing too much historical information when it comes to deciding which grantmakers an organization will approach for funding. I generally encourage those doing research on grantmakers to be very cognizant of what the funder wants to fund today, rather than what they have funded in the past. If, however, a grantmaker hasn't changed focus for a number of years, then reviewing that funder's grant award history can help attract savvier applicants.
Today, of the largest 25 foundations (by assets), 15 have online, searchable databases of grants they have awarded. And 7 of them update their grants listings daily or weekly. So we're seeing a definite trend here that could be quite helpful for the person doing research.
A good example is the Kresge Foundation, which offers an interactive, searchable database that includes a map showing which states and program areas receive money from Kresge in any given year.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that these grant award databases are more important than other resources that the foundations provide, but I do think they are starting to play a helpful role in the research process for grantseekers.
And here's another interesting trend! It has been my experience that the public really has little expectation for any level of engagement with grantmakers in their communities. I think we are all pretty used to a one-way flow of information and, if not completely satisfied with that one-way flow, then at least tolerant of the decision making about how grants are distributed in our communities.
But that seems to be changing. Today, there are some grantmakers that are trying to share a lot more information about themselves with the public, such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. On their website they clearly encourage grantees' feedback. And they engage the Center for Effective Philanthropy to provide an annual Grantee Perception Report, which assesses the foundation's application process and responsiveness and the charities' overall experience with the grantmaker. Their website even offers an opportunity to provide feedback to a company acting as an independent ombudsman that collects comments from anyone who visits the site, whether a grantee or not.
There appears to be a new mind-set among grantmakers for openness. Part of that is because there is a new generation moving into leadership positions at these grantmaking agencies, so you're seeing less adherence to the old ways of doing things (i.e., everything the grantmaker does is heavily cloaked) to a new openness, an attitude of sharing and collaboration.
The Center for Effective Philanthropy does another interesting survey, the Declined Applicant Perception Report. Like the Grantee Perception Report, this report is conducted as a way to provide funders with comparative, actionable feedback based on responses to a grantee survey. I don't think there is a way for the public to access either report, but just the fact that foundations are undertaking these kinds of surveys is a good sign.
It appears that philanthropists across the globe are committed to looking at their failures as well as their success stories. According to a report published not long ago by New Philanthropy Capital out of the United Kingdom, the United States is the "frontrunner in the idea of failure in philanthropy, with organizations and campaigns springing up to help the non-profit sector 'fail forward.'"
All of these different ways of sharing information originally started as someone's bright idea and have matured into true movements being embraced by philanthropists throughout the world. At GrantStation, we survey grantseekers twice a year regarding the State of Grantseeking, and share the results with the world at large. It is an exciting time to be involved in philanthropy, whether you're looking for funding or making grant awards!
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Cynthia M. Adams, GrantStation
© 2014, GrantStation
Cindy Adams is CEO of GrantStation, a premiere online fundraising resource that provides information on more than 6,500 funders accepting inquiries. You can learn more about trends in philanthropy in her weekly podcast: Talk2020, part of GrantStation's Vision2020 series to help nonprofits prepare for future grantmaking.