Why Demographic Data Matters

Grantmakers occupy a powerful space between power and privilege in the social change sector. As such, they have a unique opportunity—and responsibility—to work proactively toward equity and inclusivity. Increasingly, grantmaking institutions are challenging themselves to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk, when it comes to equity.

The critical first step in this effort is that grantmakers must identify and address implicit bias in grantmaking systems. This might range from ensuring that small, grassroots organizations are not prevented from seeking support due to linguistic barriers to ensuring that grantmaking staff and board members understand the latitude funders have in supporting nonprofit advocacy and civic engagement efforts.

Using data and reaching out to learn more about grantseekers addressing inequities in their fields of interest will give grantmakers a more complete understanding of their own philanthropic role and potential for impact. Doing so may surface blind spots, and will help to inform continuous improvement in the grantmaking process, in ways that will benefit both grantseekers and the communities they serve.

For grantseekers, more active efforts on the part of grantmakers around equity and inclusion will mean greater opportunity to access funding and capacity-building support to advance shared goals around closing gaps. It will enable a richer two-way dialogue with grantmakers about the needs and assets of marginalized populations and communities and how to have a greater positive impact.

For philanthropy to advance equity in all communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, it needs to be able to understand the demographics of the organizations being funded (and declined), the people being served, and the communities impacted and use that data to assess practices and drive decision making.

There is a great interest among grantmakers in demographic data, but no consensus or shared purpose yet on what data should be collected and how should it be used.  PEAK Grantmaking’s survey of our membership shows that only 54 percent of funders currently collect demographic data and only 44 percent of them are collecting data on race and ethnicity.  GEO’s recent research shows a similar picture.

PEAK Grantmaking believes that having a common approach to demographic data will allow that data to be transformed into information and knowledge, strengthening the field.  More consistency in grantmaker practice is also critical to grantees who are the source of the data.  The current variability in grantmaker requirement creates unnecessary administrative costs for grantees.

PEAK Grantmaking is working to document the current state of the field’s demographic data efforts, develop and test answers to four key questions, and share those answers along with the tools and resources grantmakers need to adopt effective demographic data collection and use practices in their organizations.

Our key questions are:

  1. What data should grantmakers collect?
  2. How should it be collected? (i.e., directly or via a third party like Guidestar)
  3. How can and should demographic data be interpreted?
  4. How can funders use demographic data in their work?

Working with a task force of members and experts in this area, we are working on:

  • Creating a baseline understanding of where the field is as a whole in demographic data collection that covers both the process of data collection and current use of demographic data. While the primary purpose of this work is to inform answers to the four key questions, we will share what we learn with the field to build the understanding of the current state of demographic data collection in philanthropy. (February 2018)
  • Convening a community of learning of funders who will develop preliminary answers to the four key questions informed by the field survey. These funders will pilot and test demographic data practices (preliminary answers to the questions) within their organizations to prove their efficacy. We will share the results of the pilots and promote the adoption of what works to the field through guides, case studies, conference sessions, workshops, and webinars. (2018)

We hope that you’ll join us on this journey to explore effective demographic data practices which is the first step to understanding if we have equitable practices.

Michelle Greanias

Michelle Greanias is executive director of PEAK Grantmaking. Follow her on Twitter @mgreanias.

  • Michael Chamberlain

    I certainly hope that PEAK Grantmaking will engage the grantees in this process to understand the impact of “How should it be collected?” on the reporting and management of grant funds by these organizations. This will be especially true of grants to organizations dealing with sensitive issues such as health care, domestic violence, and child welfare. It is important to collect the data to better inform decision-making without adding an unnecessary burden to grantees.

    +Mike Chamberlain, MBA, CAE
    CEO
    Grant Professionals Association