Congratulations to Candid — the new organization formed by the merger of the Foundation Center and GuideStar. Candid will be a powerful source of data on the sector, including both foundations and nonprofits.
The public announcement of the merger is also a good time to reflect on the importance of infrastructure organizations for the sector as whole. As noted in the 2016 open letter to foundations Investing in Infrastructure, “[C]ivil society needs infrastructure to ensure that nonprofits and foundations can act with integrity and impact.” Infrastructure organizations like Candid, the United Philanthropy Forum, GEO, and yes, us — the Johnson Center for Philanthropy — along with many others provide the services that keep the overall sector strong and adaptive, including training and education, research, convenings, and advocacy for the sector.
Also known as philanthropy serving organizations (PSOs), organizations like us help the sector to constantly improve and to leverage learning. PSOs accomplish this in many ways, such as gathering and promoting the use of data, creating the forums in which peer-learning can take place, teaching newcomers about the sector, updating the skills of those who have been in the sector for many years, and identifying emerging trends.
“Our field can benefit from remembering that consolidation should happen when and because it advances the work.”
Candid is also an example of funding for infrastructure becoming more concentrated. A 2016 report supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation noted that infrastructure funding has become more “concentrated, with the top five recipients receiving 32% of total support in 2012, up from 24% in 2004.”
Concentration and consolidation can often lead to greater efficiencies and bigger impact when those who were pulling separately now pull together. Candid’s future progress will ideally bear this out. But alternatively, it can also mean that there are fewer resources and thinkers available to do complex work. Our field can benefit from remembering that consolidation should happen when and because it advances the work.
Another cautionary note from that same report: More funding has also gone into infrastructure groups that support foundations, rather than nonprofits, and depending on the direction Candid takes, they could fall into that category. As our sector works to forge one conversation among foundations, nonprofits, communities, and others, we hope to see infrastructure organizations grow their ability to serve many stakeholders at once.
The creation of Candid is an exciting development for the sector. The deep capacity to collect and analyze data is a big step forward. We wish them well and hope this is a sign that the role of PSOs more broadly — with the diversity of services they provide to the sector — is being recognized by major funders.