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PEAK Grantmaking

Drive Equity with Demographic Data

Despite a growing focus on equity in grantmaking, nonprofits led by and serving diverse populations remain chronically underfunded, and equitable positive outcomes for those populations remain elusive. A major reason: the failure to account for demographics, especially race.

Last week, PEAK Grantmaking released a robust set of resources and recommendations designed to help drive equity in grantmaking practices. One of our most critical recommendations is to collect, analyze, and use disaggregated demographic data to advance equity and impact.

Every philanthropic organization has an intended impact in the world and has designed grantmaking strategies meant to achieve that impact. Those same organizations often have publicly-stated values around diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, our research has shown that many grantmakers still believe that they don’t need to know – or can make a best guess about – the demographic data of the people they are serving in order to determine if they are achieving their desired impact.

We believe that it is impossible to live up to values of diversity, equity, and inclusion; to design effective strategies; and to accurately assess impact, without first understanding the demographics of the communities you seek to impact. Remaining “identity blind” (i.e., across race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, faith, nationality, ability) in grantmaking simply prevents any real assessment of a foundation’s progress toward equity.

How can philanthropy live up to values of diversity, equity, and inclusion; to design effective strategies; and to accurately assess impact, without first understanding the demographics of the communities we seek to impact?

How can philanthropy live up to values of diversity, equity, and inclusion; to design effective strategies; and to accurately assess impact, without first understanding the demographics of the communities we seek to impact?

For philanthropy to advance equity in all communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, grantmakers need to understand the demographics of the organizations they are funding (and not funding), the people they are serving, and the communities they are impacting.

Stated in the simplest terms: you cannot change inequity in your grantmaking if you do not know if or where it exists. And grants managers can play an integral role in creating indicators, tracking data, and painting an accurate picture of how funding is or is not contributing to reducing historical inequities.

The “How” of Demographic Data

Our research and work in the field has revealed that successfully collecting, analyzing and using demographic data to improve grantmaking is challenging. It is a relatively new idea, and an emerging field of learning that does not yet lend itself to established “best practice” and easy, time-tested solutions. At times it seems that there are more questions than answers, but we are committed to tackling both.

Since 2018, PEAK has commissioned two studies, first with Kelly Brown of the D5 Coalition, and second with Frontline Solutions, to understand how grantmakers are successfully approaching the practice. In 2020, we launched a community of practice for grantmakers to share lessons learned and collectively determine how to overcome ongoing challenges around successfully collecting and using demographic data.

From this work, we have developed four recommendations for organizations looking to begin collecting demographic data for the first time, or for those looking to reassess their current efforts.

1. Collect demographic data on your own board and staff, grantee board and staff, people served, and communities affected by your funding.

In addition to knowing which populations are being served through your funding, it is also helpful to know whether the organizations you are supporting are fully inclusive of those populations.

2. Compare organizations and communities that are being funded and those that are declined to inform grantmaking impact and ensure accountability to your values.

Once you have collected demographic data on the grantees you support and the populations they serve, take an honest look at where most of your grant funding goes. You may find that you are inadvertently failing to fund organizations that are led by people of color, or confirm that you are serving a truly diverse population. Depending on the depth of your evaluation processes, you may even find that while your funding is going to the right organizations, outcomes for the populations they serve vary by race or gender.

You can’t know if you don’t look!

3. Share your own demographic data with both internal and external stakeholders, and communicate how demographic data you collect will be used and protected.

You should be as transparent as possible regarding data collection at every opportunity, making the what, how, and why public and easily accessible so that your organization’s values and goals are clear to grantees and others. Complete transparency contributes to empowering the communities you serve  to holding you accountable and prevents your grantees from becoming concerned, confused, or mistrusting of your efforts.

4. Support grantee capacity and technical skills to collect demographic data, and other diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

There is a significant caveat to demographic data: Some grantees, especially smaller grassroots organizations, do not have the capacity or technical know-how to collect and report on this data.

Consider your pool of existing grantees and determine which ones have the capacity and skills, and which do not. Help them by providing funding for technology, databases, and staff time committed to this effort.
Dive in

To learn more about emerging good practice in collecting and using demographic data to advance equity, visit our Drive Equity resources page to download the full How-To Guide | How to Get Started with Demographic Data.

Then, join PEAK’s Demographic Data Community of Practice, a community of practitioners representing all levels of experience with collecting and analyzing demographic data. Contact us at to sign on.

In the coming months, we’ll release additional How-To Guides to help you tackle demographic data, step by step. Topics will include:

  • Making the case for demographic data with both internal and external audiences about the need for this data
  • Tools and taxonomies for collecting this data
  • Using this data effectively for insight and impact
  • Legal considerations and data privacy

Join us in taking these practical, concrete steps toward using data to make the case for more equitable grantmaking practices.