Header: Field Focus Icon

Data and the Sector

Nonprofits and funders alike are paying increasing attention to the role of data in the philanthropic sector: how can data help us gauge impact? How can organizations with limited capacity gather good data? What data is useful and what’s just “nice to have”?

…What happens when we have bad data? What happens when we have no data at all?

In Field Focus: Data and the Sector, we explore these and other questions to determine how data can drive effective philanthropy. We heard from colleagues across the sector and identified resources from years of research and engagement. We gathered what we learned and have shared it here with you, presenting perspectives on all the ways data impacts our work and our missions.


Johnson Center staff and guest bloggers from partner organizations nationwide explore how data can drive effective philanthropy and help us evaluate impact.

Using VoiceKent Survey Results to Advance Your Mission
Photo: Melyssa Tsai O'Brienby Melyssa Tsai O’Brien

“When we use data to better understand the realities our neighbors face, we locate the starting point for change. We can target our programs, policies, funding strategies, advocacy efforts, and more for and with populations and places that need them most.”

The Johnson Center’s Melyssa Tsai O’Brien shares key findings from our latest #VoiceKent community survey and highlights the importance of broad, freely available data and easy-to-use data tools.

Read More
Data Goes Hyper-Local in Grand Rapids
Photo: Steve Wilson, Frey Foundationby Steve Wilson

Steve Wilson, president of the Frey Foundation, talks about how we often look to local foundations to provide both support and leadership as we envision the future needs for our region. But those foundations need useful, local data in order to effectively foster regional growth AND break down decades-old inequities to make way for new community infrastructure and initiatives.

Read More
The Giving USA 2018 Report is Out, but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Could Reshape 2019’s Results

Logo: Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropyby the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy recently released their annual #GivingUSA 2018. They wrote a post for our blog detailing their findings, and explained how next year’s report may look very different once we start seeing the effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on philanthropy in the U.S.

Read More
Data Shows Nonprofits are Real Power Hitters When It Comes to Voter Engagement
Photo: Greg Cameron, Nonprofit VOTEby Greg Cameron

We talk a lot about turnout numbers and election margins, but the most overlooked number is how many Americans are registered to vote BEFORE getting to the polls. That’s where nonprofit outreach can have a big impact. Organizations across the country put in a real team effort to civically energize the communities most often left out of the electoral process. And like good teammates, there must be trust between citizens and the nonprofits that serve them to achieve the ultimate goal.

Read More
Just Another Lab Mouse: Choosing Social Media Metrics that Matter
Photo: Tory Martinby Tory Martin

Social media has become a tool of nearly incalculable value to nonprofits and their causes. Channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram offer a cost-effective way for us to reach the people we serve, the communities we hope to shape, and the donors and volunteers we rely on for so much. Yet beyond the fact that we know we need to be on social media, it’s hard to know what else we can and ought to measure about the impact of our digital presence. Which social media metrics matter?

Read More
Recruiting and Retaining Staff Through Better Benchmarking Data
Photo: Brittany Kienkerby Brittany Kienker

Organizations across the country are always looking for ways to use data to make sound decisions, show impact, and be better stewards of their own resources. Using relevant data to benchmark compensation packages is one important way to help you recruit and retain staff, ensuring that your organization’s financial resources are put to good use in achieving your mission-oriented, philanthropic goals.

Read More
Listening Carefully: An Argument for Considering All the Data
Photo: Kevin Bolducby Kevin Bolduc

As we consider the ways that numbers, statistics, and trends both impact and inform the way we do our jobs, we also need to consider “feedback,” the qualitative data that lets us check-in with our stakeholders about the work we’re doing and the work we ask them to do. In this blog, Kevin Bolduc of the Center for Effective Philanthropy writes about the importance of hearing every voice.

Read More
How to Find Data for Nonprofit Research
Huafang Liby Huafang Li

To conduct research on nonprofit organizations, we need data. But where can we find data that suit our research purposes? Some researchers seemed to hold the idea that the scarcity of data is one of the biggest challenges for making research progress.

Read More
Data and the Sector: Using Data to Drive Effective Philanthropy
Teri Behrensby Teri Behrens

When we talk about the role of data in philanthropy, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is evaluation. The sector has become very focused on measuring outcomes and impact — and that is a good thing. However, that’s only one of the ways in which data play an important role in the sector. Over the next three months, the Johnson Center and our partners will be exploring the many roles that data plays in our work, whether you represent a foundation, a nonprofit, an individual donor, or a social enterprise.

Read More
The Continued Rise of Collective Giving
Jason Franklin, Ph.D.by Jason Franklin

Collective giving groups, often known as giving circles, have tripled in number since 2007 and are an increasingly popular way for donors from diverse backgrounds to amplify the impact of their giving. New research from the Collective Giving Research Group — co-founded by Jason Franklin, Ph.D., the W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy; Jessica Bearman of Bearman Consulting; Julia Carboni of Syracuse University; and Angela Eikenberry of the University of Nebraska at Omaha — demonstrated that giving circles have now engaged over 150,000 Americans and made nearly $1.3 billion in philanthropic donations. Their findings on the demographic make-up of these groups, their primary giving areas, and their impact on civic engagement are published in The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups in the U.S. (2016).

Read the Report

Podcast Episodes

Field Notes in Philanthropy - Ep. 5: This One Counts

The 2020 U.S. Census is at a “high risk” for failure, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Given that the decennial Census is how our government divvies up Congressional representatives, federal program dollars, and a host of other assets, a failed Census could spell chaos for our country. And for the nonprofit sector.

Philanthropy has played a key role in previous censuses, providing the resources and know-how to mobilize community groups, neighbors, and businesses to help ensure an accurate count. Perla Ni, founder and CEO of the Census Outreach Project, and Kyle Caldwell, Executive Director of the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, join the hosts to talk about what nonprofits can do this time around. (Published June 18, 2018)

Listen to the podcast
Field Notes in Philanthropy - Ep. 4: That's a Lot of Letters

The European Union just set the bar for digital data privacy. On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect, giving internet users in the EU broad powers to monitor and control how organizations and businesses keep, manage, and use their personal data.

What’s more, the GDPR gives EU citizens rights to their data wherever it’s held — even if that’s in the United States. And in an era when organizations like Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are dominating headlines because of their misuse of personal data, the GDPR poses some compelling questions for U.S. privacy laws, nonprofit data management, and philanthropy in a global age. Jason Bryce, Head of Risk and Compliance with the UK-based Charities Aid Foundation, joins our hosts to discuss. (Published May 24, 2018)

Listen to the podcast


What We Don’t Know: How Gaps in Giving Data Could Impact Our Sector

What We Don't Know: How Gaps in Giving Data Could Impact Our Sector

In this webinar, we explore how the growing gaps in our data could shape the future of fundraising, community giving, research, and policymaking.

Moderator: Michael Moody, Ph.D., Frey Foundation Chair for Family Philanthropy at the Johnson Center

Guest Panel:

  • Elizabeth T. Boris, Institute Fellow at the Urban Institute
  • Eric Guthrie, Michigan State Demographer
  • Jasmine McGinnis Johnson, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration at George Washington University

Original recording date: April 19, 2018

Watch the webinar on YouTube

Other Resources

From Our 2018 Trends Report:

Published in The Foundation Review

Data Tools

Community Profiles 2.0
Community Profiles 2.0 is a tool developed by the Johnson Center’s Community Research Institute at Grand Valley State University. It aims to build upon the existing work of within the City of Grand Rapids and to further the development and use of neighborhood information and data systems in local policymaking and community building. The Community Profiles 2.0 tool allows you to:

  • Map patterns within a community or neighborhood
  • Compare multiple neighborhoods and indicators simultaneously
  • Trend information over time and across geographies
  • Score neighborhoods based on multiple indicators
  • Generate profile reports for your defined or customized geographic areas
  • Save all of your work through a registered account for future access

Generosity for Life
GenerosityforLife.org is a product of Indiana University’s Lilly School for Philanthropy and presents research on giving, allowing fundraisers to filter and tailor data for their organization or sub-sector.

Data About Philanthropy

Key Metrics for Philanthropy – Serving Organizations
United Philanthropy Forum (Nov 2017)
United Philanthropy Forum’s first-ever Key Metrics for Philanthropy – Serving Organizations report provides comprehensive benchmarking data and analyses on the governance, finances, membership, services and programs, and operations of regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs).

Key Facts on Foundation Evaluation 
Foundation Center (Nov 2017)
In 2017, Foundation Center surveyed a sample of U.S.-based foundations about whether they conduct evaluations, what they evaluate, and whether they share what they learn outside of their organization. This infographic lays out key findings from that survey.

Re-imagining Measurement Initiative: A Better Future for Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning
Monitor Institute by Deloitte
Re-imagining measurement is an ongoing initiative to spur innovation in how foundations and nonprofits approach monitoring, evaluation, and learning. In the materials, you’ll find best thinking from the field about a path to a better future, and a toolkit with bright spots, leading edge practices to spread, and innovations to try.

Scholarly Works

The Development and Validation of the Motives to Donate Scale
By Dr. Sara Konrath and Dr. Femida Handy (Dec 2017)
Dr Sara Konrath (Indiana University) and Dr. Femida Handy (University of Pennsylvania) conducted a research project aimed at developing and validating a scale that could assess individuals’ motives to make philanthropic donations — the “Motives to Donate” scale.

Blogs & Articles

Using Data to Collaborate
PEAK Grantmaking (March 2018)
By Mary Coleman

How can funders use grantee data to improve community collaboration? “With data about community-level issues from grantees, Komen Colorado can increase its impact by taking the information straight to decision-makers in government and other agencies to advocate for stronger laws or programs for the communities served… System-level collaboration is how to use the data in meaningful ways,” writes Mary Coleman, Program Manager, Susan G. Komen Colorado.

Data – who needs it?
Alliance Magazine (Feb 2018)
By Andrew Milner

Alliance Associate Editor Andrew Milner questions philanthropy’s thirst for data, whether much of what we gather is truly useful, and how we can be purposeful about building up data capacity for nonprofits and funders around the world.

Resources like these are available from over 60 content partners on LearnPhilanthropy.org.