Data for a better South African philanthropy

Gabrielle Ritchie: Director, The Change Room

28th September 2016

Data is at the centre of many current debates in the development sector.  Certainly, data on philanthropy, grantmaking and donor funding is in hugely short supply in South Africa.  In a recent blog I attest to the absence of helpful data that can serve to inform strategy both for grantmakers and grantseekers, and that can support the rigorous development of a philanthropy infrastructure for South Africa.

Lauren Bradford, Director of Global Partnerships at the Foundation Center in the USA, recently wrote an article about the need for data globally to support the development of grounded understandings of patterns, trends, impacts, successes and failures in the grantmaking and philanthropy space towards improving grant impact.   Bradford makes a fundamental point when she explains that “… for data to be collected, processed, analyzed, and eventually shared—all while taking into account individual country contexts around the world—the data has to exist in the first place”.  South Africa is a perfect example of the absence of philanthropy data, and highlights the extent to which real analysis – of effectiveness and impact in grantmaking – is impossible in such a data-empty context.

The Foundation Center has adopted a particular strategy to tackle this yawning gap, towards developing a much-improved understanding of the impact of the billions invested in social development of one kind or another, and towards amending approaches where results have been disappointing.  Bradford outlines this approach as follows:

Foundation Center has developed a partnership program that it is implementing with philanthropic infrastructure organizations around the world to work to create a culture of data, build much needed data management capacity, and create and use data for more effective development and grantmaking outcomes. This program aims to strengthen local foundations, and associations of foundations, to develop their own long-term sustainable in-country data strategies, better understand and fill their capacity gaps through skill development, and highlight and provide tools to enable foundations to better work with data. 

One project undertaken by the Foundation Center in Kenya was designed to support those working in the Kenyan philanthropy sector to:

  • identify and agree on principles for collaborative data and knowledge management
  • identify the biggest data challenges and needs in the Kenyan philanthropy context
  • use appropriate technology effectively for collecting and sharing data and knowledge
  • agree on a set of the most important goals and priorities for data collection and knowledge management for philanthropy – both in their own organisations and as a sector in Kenya.

There are a number of disparate research initiatives and projects related to philanthropy, sources of funding, funded sectors, funded activities and foundation practice.  There have been efforts at developing an indication of the size and scope of philanthropy in South Africa – with varying degrees of success.  For example, National Treasury has recently produced a research report covering aspects of South African philanthropy, and Inyathelo: The South African Institute for Advancement is still completing a size-and-scope study funded in 2013 through the National Lotteries Commission (no update/ current status available).

Lauren Bradford closes her article with the following persuasive encouragement to get involved in, and take responsibility for, contributing the development of the philanthropy data field:

“… next time you’re doing research to guide your decision making and you’re wondering why you can’t find data you need—from general information about an organization to a particular program’s impact or funding—ask yourself: Do you think the data exists? If not, think about how you might help to create it.”

Importantly, the “Treasury Report” indicates that almost a third (32%) of the Foundations contacted for the study did not provide any information on the required facets of the provided matrix (and received a rating of ‘None’ on the disclosure of information scale).  This references directly to the challenges of trying to identify trends in South Africa philanthropy, and to the general lack of data – which is further addressed in a report titled A Snapshot of South African Philanthropy, published in February 2016. This snapshot report provides the most recent general overview of the state of the philanthropy sector in South Africa.

To develop a national data project that would best serve the development sector – both grantmakers and grantseekers – the Foundation Center approach is sound.  We need to be thinking how, in South Africa, we could develop a similar framework to encourage the development of a national data platform on philanthropy, grantmaking, sector foci, grant amounts, strategies, partnerships, collaborations, funding impact, failures, and other key philanthropy considerations.

We need to be thinking: Does the data exist? If not, how might I help to create it?



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