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Lessons learned: Using demographic data to move from intention to action 

Four people in a planning meeting.

As more funders seek to use demographic data to inform their grantmaking decision-making, 125 partners have now joined the Demographics via Candid movement. To reduce the burden on grantees to provide this data, this sector-wide initiative also empowers nonprofits to collect and share staff and board member demographics—one time—in a standardized, reusable, and freely accessible format on their Candid profiles.   

At a recent webinar hosted by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, Jennifer Chheang of The California Endowment (TCE) and Allie VanHeast of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation (KCF) shared how they are using Demographics via Candid in practice to better understand alignment with institutional goals and measure their progress. Here I highlight their best practices for collecting this data from grantees, as well as what this information is helping foundations to achieve. 

The process and timing of asking nonprofits for demographic data matters. Since collecting and sharing demographic data is still new to many organizations, there can be concerns about the data jeopardizing a grantseeker’s chances to receive funding. To dispel the notion that there is a correct answer, these funders have learned that the timing of their ask matters.  

In fact, they suggest the real-world importance of asking for this grantee information once a funding decision has already been made. Requesting it post-award, or post decision to invite a proposal for invitation-only funders, serves to reinforce that this data is not a factor in funding decisions. Rather, it’s simply a means for funders to understand their own portfolios over time.   

Collecting demographic data can lead to meaningful change. No one wants to collect data for data’s sake. Instead, it’s a tool for informing actions that advance funders’ institutional goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion—and thereby reducing funding disparities. Jennifer Chheang of TCE explained how the foundation was able to analyze its grantee demographic data to get insight into its own patterns of giving. This gave them visibility into who was and was not typically receiving its sought-after general operating support and multi-year grants. 

By reviewing its grantees’ demographic data, TCE learned that the rate at which Black, Indigenous, and people of color- (BIPOC) led organizations received general operating and multi-year grants was historically lower than that of their white-led peers. This resulted in a review of TCE’s grantmaking policies that may have inadvertently disadvantaged and disqualified smaller budget organizations, many of which were BIPOC-led. They eventually changed a rule that had been in place for many years, in which a general operating grant could not represent more than 30% of an organization’s budget. 

As they were analyzing their grantmaking data, they also reviewed their multi-year funding trends and recognized that BIPOC-led organizations were less likely to receive a multi-year grant—burdening them with annual application workloads.  Through thoughtful internal conversations, TCE has eliminated this disparity. Finally, the data trail also led TCE to examine the financial capacity of grantees that had historically received fewer unrestricted grant dollars. This helped the foundation to identify how they might work to improve supporting grantees that currently have limited flexible revenue. 

Read this blog to learn more about TCE’s analysis and how these changes benefit the majority of their grantees.  

It’s important and possible to collect data from groups operating under a fiscal sponsor. Starting a nonprofit that’s registered with the IRS is a time- and work-intensive process. As such, many community-based groups lack the tax-exempt status necessary to be eligible for charitable donations, including foundation funding. For this reason, along with the need for infrastructure support, it’s common for such groups to work under a fiscal sponsorship provider.  

Allie VanHeast of KCF shared that 15% of their grantees are fiscally sponsored. This makes it important to include them in the foundation’s demographic data collection to avoid significant data gaps. As a result, KCF has used Candid’s demographic survey to develop a similar survey that it issues to fiscally sponsored grantees to supplement the nonprofit data it collects from Candid’s profiles. The community foundation’s also transparently outlines the data collection process, including helpful tips and templates for grantees.  

As an increasing number of funders join Demographics via Candid, we will continue to share their key lessons learned, as well as what collecting demographic data enables them to achieve. Click here for more information on Demographics via Candid and how to sign on as a partner.


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