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Trust-based considerations for demographic data

Two black professionals working together in a conference room.

There is promising evidence that philanthropy is changing to be more responsive to the needs and priorities of communities.

Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and racial uprisings of 2020, many of these shifts were seen as essential to healing and repairing a society in crisis. As funders scrambled to move money to communities in need, the limitations of conventional philanthropy came into sharper focus. The sector’s overreliance on burdensome, transactional systems was inhibiting funders’ ability to be responsive and nimble—especially among organizations on the frontlines. Moreover, it became more apparent that these very systems were perpetuating a history of distrust, underinvestment, and disinvestment in BIPOC-led organizations.

In an attempt to alleviate historical injustices, many foundations established grant programs for BIPOC-led organizations. However, when it came time to implement these programs, another major challenge came to light: they didn’t have existing relationships with BIPOC organizations. This required funders to work harder to identify eligible grantees, and more importantly, earn their trust. Some outreach efforts to identify BIPOC organizations even created extra burden on community-based organizations that already had relationships with foundations, as grantmakers looked to them for recommendations for prospective grantees.

Demographics via Candid provides an opportunity to address some of these issues and help funders reach and build relationships with organizations that may not be part of their existing networks. This campaign encourages the use of a centralized system for nonprofit demographic data, accessed through the Candid profile, with an intentional goal of helping connect funders with underfunded organizations without creating extra burdens on those nonprofits’ time.

When used intentionally and thoughtfully, this resource can be a useful tool in supporting funders who want to support and build trust with BIPOC-led organizations. Given that successful philanthropy requires relationships of trust and mutuality, we strongly encourage funders to consider how the following trust-based values can inform your approach to using and seeking demographic data:

  • Work for systemic equity. Demographic data can help funders advance equity both through identifying BIPOC-led grantees, and through assessing their current funding gaps and biases. But advancing equity goes much deeper than checking a demographic box and writing a check. Being an equitable and responsive grantmaker requires making space to understand organizations’ vision and goals, learn about their challenges and dreams, and listen for opportunities where support beyond the check can help their work continue to thrive. 
  • Redistribute power. Given the entrenched power imbalances between philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, it is essential that funders take on a power-conscious approach in all operations, including demographic data collection. At the forefront of your process, you should be transparent about why and how you will use demographic data to inform grantmaking decisions. While working with grantees to collect demographic data to support your goals for more equitable grantmaking, consider ways to collect and share your own demographic data and demographic diversity goals for mutual accountability and transparency. Candid profiles also offer foundations the option to share this type of information.
  • Center relationships. Strong relationships are essential to effective grantmaking. Whether you are inviting your grantees to submit their data to Demographics via Candid or are planning to use the system to identify prospective grantees in the future, consider ways you can put your relationships first. For example, when asking grantees to submit their data, make space to hear their perspectives, concerns, and restraints—and make efforts to be responsive to those needs. Know that some leaders may be reluctant to share their demographic data, due to concerns about how it will be used or whether it will be used against them. Consider ways to address these concerns in order to build strong, trustworthy relationships.  
  • Partner in a spirit of service. Be aware that some organizations may not have the capacity to collect and manage demographic data. If you plan to ask your nonprofit partners to add their information into Candid’s system, consider ways to bolster your support to ensure they have adequate capacity to do so. And if you plan to use Demographics via Candid to identify prospective grantees, take efforts to listen to these organizations and understand ways you can provide support beyond the check to ensure that they can make the most of the funds.
  • Be accountable. Ultimately, social sector work is about being accountable to communities—and this accountability cannot be assumed even when an organization is BIPOC-led or has a majority BIPOC board. Use demographic data as a starting point to learn about organizations, and then do the homework to understand more about how those organizations are reflecting and responding to their communities. Also consider how you can build a sense of mutual accountability with grantee organizations throughout your demographic data collection process. Shared accountability and transparency are core to being a trust-based funder and can set the tone for how nonprofits interact with and serve their communities.
  • Embrace learning. Be prepared to learn and evolve in how you are using data to make decisions. It is important to build in feedback loops with grantees, be transparent about what you are learning, and consider ways to continue to improve your relationships with grantee partners—especially when cultivating newer relationships.

The path toward sector-wide change is messy and complex—especially as we strive to reimagine structures, roles, and norms to better align with a vision for a more just and equitable world. Demographic data collection—when done in a trust-based, values-aligned way—can be a helpful factor in spotlighting gaps and opportunities in grantmaking. However, it is a tool rather than a solution. As philanthropy continues to examine and undo harms from the past, let’s use this opportunity to reinforce a more holistic understanding of power dynamics and mutual accountability, and continue to learn from the process.


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  • Barbara Gottesman says:

    July 18, 2023 11:23 am

    Excellent posting! Logical and well thought out. This should give us all ammunition to work more thoroughly.