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Predictions for the future of social sector data 

Five individuals sitting on a stage engaging in a conversation

Chantal Forster, Executive Director, TAG (Technology Association of Grantmakers) 

If you’ve been waiting for an invitation to the data conversation, this is it. Whether you’re a nonprofit, funder, or a consortium of both, fundamental questions are surfacing about social sector data that merit your attention. Last month, at the TAG2022 conference for global philanthropy tech in San Antonio, we featured a panel on the future of social sector data that only scratched the surface of core issues such as: 

  • Is social sector data a type of public good? 
  • How does the social sector fund (or charge for) data infrastructure as a public good?  
  • What is an appropriate role for private enterprise in this infrastructure? 
  • How do we hold all participants in the data ecosystem accountable? 

The data ecosystem for the social sector is evolving rapidly and becoming an increasingly crowded space. In addition to Candid, recent entrants include the Philanthropic Data Commons, Impala, and the GivingTuesday Data Commons. Superficially, this competition may be perceived as detrimental and yet, I believe we’re in an exceedingly generative period. Now is the time to ask incisive questions about access and accountability of any organization seeking your data or investment. Whether you’re a nonprofit, a funder, or a consortium, you have more power than you might think in building our data future together.  

I invite you to start by watching the panel session from TAG2022. In this 40-minute conversation, you’ll find an overview of the current data ecosystem and hear from the leaders of Candid, Impala, the Philanthropy Data Commons, and GivingTuesday, as they describe their efforts and initiatives.  

Post-panel, participants are sharing their reflections below regarding where we might go next. We hope you will join us in continuing the conversation. 

Shahar Brukner, CEO, impala 

Since we started impala, by far the most common feedback we’ve heard across hundreds of interviews with nonprofits and foundations alike is that they’re skeptical. They’ve been burned investing significant time and resources in various data solutions, only to be met with a paywall when they want to access the very same information. Additionally, we’ve seen dozens of foundations developing their own data repositories from scratch and spending large sums on consultants and external software providers, often resulting in another layer of work or another time-consuming requirement for nonprofits that are simply burnt-out. Ultimately, change in data accessibility and usability in the nonprofit sector has been extremely slow, even though the entire field is eagerly awaiting it. 

At impala, we listened to what we heard and acted swiftly. We’ve already unlocked all 2.8 million nonprofit and philanthropic foundation profiles on our platform. They are not, and will never be, kept behind a paywall. All the information in these profiles, including every grant given and received, is completely open and accessible from anywhere. We also developed a product called Ecosystem Intelligence, which offers macro-level analytics on social impact funding in the U.S., across any geography or issue. With impala, nonprofits and foundations are already enjoying free access to all the data they need. They can stop collecting and curating data and developing software and focus on what they do best: making the world a better place. 

Ann Mei Chang, CEO, Candid 

Over the past few years, the social sector has been asked to step up in ways we never could have imagined. As with any modern endeavor, data, information, and insights are crucial to maximizing our impact.  

At Candid, we welcome any solution that leads to a more efficient, effective, and equitable social sector. Through our decades of experience, we have seen firsthand the value of high-quality data and the significant ongoing investment required to deliver it. We encourage transparency across the board about how we each aim to achieve long-term financial sustainability, so that we can continue to fuel our collective efforts to do the most good possible. 

Competition within the social sector is a good thing. It pushes us to be better, build off each other’s strengths, and ultimately better meet the sector’s needs. We are delighted that this group is collectively exploring a wide range of solutions to expand access, improve quality, and better harmonize the data that fuels our work.  

Elizabeth Kane, Managing Director, Core Services, MacArthur Foundation

There is healthy competition within the sector that is spurring our collective work to change how we manage and use data as a sector asset. We share that common vision and a commitment to collaborate and trust one another in the work.  

Changemakers (those nonprofits and others doing the work in the world who rely on receiving grants) must be at the center of everything we do in the sector. They must own and control their data and information.  

The Philanthropy Data Commons (PDC) effort involves representatives from throughout the philanthropic sector – changemakers, data platform providers (infomediaries), funders, and grants management system providers – to work together to build and demonstrate a new way of managing and using data, to co-create solutions, and to iterate, with humility, acknowledging we do not have the answers. Ultimately, the PDC is about spurring more equitable access to resources and reducing the power dynamics between changemakers and funders. 

Woodrow Rosenbaum, Chief Data Officer, GivingTuesday 

Effective data use in the nonprofit sector is not a technology problem. While we and others are building increasingly sophisticated data products and services, these technologies must leverage something much more critical: collaboration and a community of practice. Rather than becoming more “competitive,” we’ve observed that there is much more active collaboration among the growing number of players in the philanthropic data space. 

It remains too common for organizations, including funders, to approach their data strategies from the perspective of “what can we collect?”. This has led to a lot of data collection without a purpose and this extractive approach is a wasteful burden on the organizations that generate these data. It is encouraging to hear funders starting from a “what can we learn?” entry point, but we should go further to start with questions that will enable organizations to better achieve their missions. Data collection should serve the people creating and sharing the data first and foremost. 


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  • Gayle Gifford says:

    January 6, 2023 4:26 pm

    Looking at Impala. The Ecosystem data is behind a paywall. What has been a great data loss for the sector is the loss of the National Center for Charitable Statistics and its data wizard. That tool was invaluable for understanding the nonprofit ecosystem. And it was free.

  • Jonathan Mergy says:

    January 6, 2023 11:59 am

    Appreciate this great rundown of the closing TAG 2022 session. Coming together across the sector for these larger challenging conversations with key stakeholders and initiatives doing the work is exactly what we need. Doing that work while navigating (not freezing on!) ambiguity, being transparent, co-creating, and communicating-out on progress makes me excited to see how much we can do into 2023 and beyond together.