360Giving is a UK-based charity that helps organisations publish and utilize open, standardised grants data to improve charitable giving. They established and promote an open data standard for grants, and provide tools to enable funders to access, search, and visualize data to better understand the ‘bigger picture’ at play. They are on the leading edge of the open grants movement. Tesicca Truong, EFC’s Program Manager, sat down with Tania Cohen, the Chief Executive of 360 Giving and a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE),to chat about the importance of data-informed grant making and her role in the open data movement. Here is an abbreviated version of the conversation.

TT: Why was 360 Giving formed and what is it trying to achieve?

TC: 360Giving was founded by Fran Perrin, Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), when she was creating a foundation. She was trying to understand what was and wasn’t currently being funded to inform her own strategy. She discovered that there was limited visibility of what was being funded and by whom, which made it challenging to set her own strategy. Since the data was not available, she created 360Giving to fill this gap not only for herself, but also for other funders. 360Giving’s vision is to help make grant making in the United Kingdom more informed, effective and strategic.

TT: Why are you personally invested in the mission of the organization?

TC: I’ve been working with charities for the past 25 years. My personal investment is in supporting the money to flow to where it is needed the most. Particularly now, with limited resources all around, difficult decisions need to be made and I want those difficult decisions to be made by informed funders who understand the implications of their decisions to maximise their impact.

TT: Tell me a bit more about your strategy.

When we developed our 2022-2025 strategy, Unleashing the Impact of Grants Data, it was driven by stakeholder needs and outcomes. Our four main goals are:

  1. Increase relevant data available for informed decision-making
  2. Improve the quality and depth of data for increased usefulness
  3. Enhance data use for greater effectiveness
  4. Lead and influence practice for impact

It has made a big difference for us to be very purposeful and focused on what we are trying to achieve.

TT: What are some of the challenges that you have faced in data collection?

TC: We created the 360Giving Data Standard for funders to use, which has also been adopted by the central government as the official standard for government departments to publish their data – we support grant makers across all sectors. One important thing to note is that 360Giving does not collect the data from funders. Funders collect and publish their own data on their websites using the 360Giving Data Standard fields and then we amalgamate the data and make it searchable.

In order to make publishing data as accessible as possible, we only require ten essential data fields as a minimum and allow funders to publish their data in common file types, including csv files and Microsoft Excel. That way, grantors can use their existing databases and do not need any special software to share their data. Our standard is available online, free – even the code for our tools is shared and free for people to copy and use . The Data Standard itself is always evolving and developing. For example, in response to feedback, we changed the standard to allow funders to publish grants to individuals as well as to organizations, and anonymously when needed.

TT: What have been some of the key outcomes of your work and how has it influenced the philanthropic sector in the UK?

TC: We have helped to make funding more strategic, and we have changed how funders understand their own place in the ecosystem of funding. Our work has influenced how organizations think about their own strategies and, by doing deep dives into particular sectors, we have facilitated much richer discussions between funders and charities. For example, we undertook some analysis and published a report about voluntary sector infrastructure, or the organizations that support charities and capacity building, and how they have changed over the last 12 years. This resulted in some funders changing their granting criteria after learning how the framing of their applications might limit who could apply and what they could request. In this way, data helps people see who they should be talking to and where there may be challenges to overcome.

TT: Does your initiative help answer questions about equity in the philanthropic sector in the UK?

TC: We have made a difference for equity through data collection. We developed a Diversity, Equity Inclusion (DEI) Standard in 2021with the DEI Data Group collaboration of funders,to determine who is being funded, uncover unconscious bias, and examine how representative leadership is of the communities they serve. For example, some grantors were funding projects for black and racialized communities that were not led by those communities. Other examples include the data highlighting biases in processes with some groups being disproportionately declined at particular stages that has led to revised application approaches to increase equity in grantmaking. The DEI Data Standard includes three dimensions of interest:

  1. Beneficiaries: Ensuring over 75% of the people being supported by the project are from a community experiencing structural inequity
  2. Mission and purpose of the organization: Ensuring that marginalized populations are centered within the mission and purpose of the organization and/or the project.
  3. Representative Leadership: Ensuring that the leadership of the organization is representative of the community that it serves. To meet the criteria of representative leadership, the DEI Data Standard has defined that 75% of their board and/or governance committee and 50% of the senior management team must be from the underserved population(s) that it serves.

The categories and thresholds were developed collaboratively with community groups working with minoritized communities to self define the standards, and also the thresholds were at a high level to reduce the need for complex data collection as makes it easier to assess, at a glance, whether an organization meets that minimum requirement. We know that many funders are changing what they are doing as a result of this work, but not all have published the results of their actions.

TT: On the 8th birthday of 360Giving what makes you most proud?

TC: I’m proud that sharing and using data is now expected practice in the UK. It’s not exceptional, not just for organizations who are leading in the space. Data collection and reporting is so embedded now that before some new foundations had even made their first grant, they had spoken with us. It is great to see funders collaborating and the open sharing of data is what makes it possible. In some collaborations, if certain foundations are not publishing their data, they are excluded from participating because it is harder to see the shared impact. It’s amazing to see this shift in culture and expectations.

This did not happen overnight; it took eight years. Now, £220 billion of grants is published and accessible in the 360Giving search engine for grants, GrantNav It’s not just useful for the public and grantees. Funders find this useful themselves. We do not position 360Giving as a transparency initiative. We want grantors to understand the value of publicly sharing their data to better understand their place in the ecosystem, collaborate more effectively and to inform their strategies.

TT: Based on 360Giving’s experience in the UK, are there any lessons that we should learn from as we embark on our journey launching the Open Data and Transparency Project?

TC: I have three pieces of advice. First, make it easy for people to participate. A low barrier to entry is critical to ensure uptake. We made it simple with only ten mandatory fields – although there is the flexibility to provide a lot more information to tailor to individual organisational needs. People can complete it on a simple spreadsheet and publish it on their own website. They have ownership over the data. It makes it less like they are reporting to us, and more like doing it for themselves.

Second, we developed tools to help people access and use the data very early on which makes the data useful to grant makers in an aggregated form. This made it more likely for them to publish the data and it is also more noticeable when they are not there. These include Grant Nav, a search engine for grants, and Insights, where data visualizations can be created.

Finally, we have been doing analysis ourselves to inspire people to show what is possible to do with the data. For example, I shared about the infrastructure funding report and we have also recently published an overview of all UK grantmaking. Our work has inspired others to do their own analysis with the data as well.

TT: Thank you so much for your time and sharing your expertise with us, Tania.

This conversation was especially enlightening given the launch of EFC’s Open Data and Transparency Project. From now until September 29th, EFC is collecting environmental grants data to better understand what is getting funded and who is getting funded by EFC members. If you’d like to learn more, please e-mail Thea Silver at thea@environmentfunders.ca.