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Collaborating for Data Sharing: The Story of One Funders Group

[This post originally appeared on Exponent Philanthropy]

When funders get together to connect, talk, and build relationships with one another, big things can happen.

Consider, for example, this analysis of over $14 million awarded to nonprofits in Frederick County, Maryland, along with a growing understanding of how local giving relates to community needs.

The origins of our funders group

About five years ago, a group of funders in Frederick County, Maryland, realized we were all using the same grants management system: Foundant’s Grant Lifecycle Manager, or GLM. As a result, we started meeting every other month to talk about the system and how we could leverage this shared technology to streamline grant applications for local grantseekers.

The working group is made up of lean funders in our area:

  • Delaplaine Foundation, Inc.
  • Frederick County Government
  • The Ausherman Family Foundation
  • The Community Foundation of Frederick County
  • The Helen J. Serini Foundation
  • The Kahlert Foundation
  • The United Way of Frederick County

However, the data project includes grantmaking data from more organizations in the area.

Collaborating for data sharing

What started as a conversation about streamlining applications turned into a desire to better understand what we were funding and what we were not funding. In particular, the group discussed:

The group amassed data from our internal grantmaking systems to address these questions while maintaining our initial intentions. We sought permissions for data-sharing and defined and refined how we’d code the data. Eventually, we enlisted a data-based consultant to help develop the taxonomy. They also analyzed the resulting report in the context of existing assessments on community needs.

What our funders group learned

Our funder collaborative learned a lot from the first report, for instance:

  • We gave out substantially more funding as a collective than we’d thought—nearly $14 million across participating funders.
  • There were local philanthropies not included in our original working group whose insights were valuable to answering these questions.
  • In some areas, our collective giving directly aligned with stated community needs (e.g., addressing ACEs). But in other places, it did not (e.g., supporting our county’s growing senior population).
  • For some grants, our coding taxonomy worked well. But others needed to be adjusted and/or completely reconsidered. These mostly related to race and ethnicity demographics.
  • Our grantmaking addressed emergency needs (likely a result of this first report coinciding with COVID-19) but overlooked preventative funding.

These insights are all important. However, the time, trust, and relationships that enabled them continue to be the most valuable.

We got to know one another through job changes, babies, moves, and new hires. Thus, the group built trust across entities that hadn’t worked together closely and shared data across organizations. Discussing letters of intent, applications, evaluations, and reporting, we came to understand one another’s funding processes and thought about how our timing synced with other funders. Additionally, we found opportunities for co-funded convening and non-profit capacity-building trainings along the way.

What’s next for our funders group?

Our initial analysis centered on 2020 grantmaking, and we are currently working on coding our 2021 data. At the same time, we’re also looking ahead to see where we might need to tweak our taxonomy for 2022 and beyond.

Our working group continues to meet monthly to chat about all things grantmaking. This includes how we, as individual funders and as a collaborative, can meet our community’s needs on an ongoing basis.

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Exponent Philanthropy is a member-led community of lean funders where foundation leaders and individual funders learn and inspire one another to make exponential impact. When lean funders are uncertain or feel isolated, Exponent Philanthropy connects them with answers, experts, and peers to create a supportive community of fulfilled, informed, and, ultimately, more effective philanthropists.

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