Achieving Equity: What Can Data Tell Us

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Achieving Equity: What Can Data Tell Us

By Hope Lyons, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Melissa Sines, PEAK Grantmaking

PEAK Grantmaking recently released a report on how funders are collecting and using demographic data. In our conversations with members, we learned that only about half of grantmakers are collecting this data. Of that half, almost all of them are collecting information on the communities that nonprofits serve, and less than half of them are collecting information on the board and staff leadership of the nonprofits.

We uncovered a number of myths and challenges about collecting and sharing this data. One of the key challenges was what taxonomy to use. Another key challenge was how to prevent “extraction” of data from communities and use this as an opportunity to start real human conversations.

Hope Lyons of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund shares a bit from her organization’s journey below.

You Have to Start Somewhere

At the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, we undertake diversity data collection to better understand our grantees and how they approach diversity, equity, and inclusion, in their work and within their organization.

“How does the proposed work engage diverse perspectives in the community or field in which you work?” That’s the question that we started with when we began collecting data on diversity from our grantees seven years ago.

When we started on this journey—and it is an ongoing journey, as work around diversity, equity, and inclusion should be— we spent a significant amount of time trying to answer the above question ourselves as we worked to develop the ‘perfect data questions’ for our grantees. Then it dawned on us:  it made much more sense to ask our grantees this question directly and to learn from them.

We thought we would get a sentence or two. In many instances we received paragraphs and rich narratives; the grantees that we thought would have the least to say often said the most. The experience was a good reminder that as funders, we really don’t know everything!

We now also ask our grantees for gender and race/ethnicity data on the board and staff of their organizations, and we share these same statistics about the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in our Annual Review. We structured the data collection form for our grantees based in the U.S. around census categories. For our grantees based outside of the U.S., we decided again to let our grantees inform our thinking. We give them space to identify the appropriate demographic categorizations for the context in which they work.

But Do We All Have to Do It Differently?

As funders, we are really good at developing tools and processes that reflect the way we work. We can rationalize why we need grantees to develop proposal narratives that respond to our specific questions and use budget templates that are unique to our foundation’s preferred budget lines. But must we follow that same path for demographic data, too?

This is an opportunity to work together to develop a shared approach to how we ask grantees about diversity. This could be something standard we use individually, so grantees aren’t having to slice and dice data multiple ways for different funders. Or, better yet, we could work with our grants management software vendors and organizations like GuideStar to collect this in a way that allows the grantees to enter the data once—and update it as needed—and put the onus on us as funders to import it into our systems. In the year 2018, this shouldn’t be too far-fetched. Making our processes easier for grantees frees up their time to focus on their work, which is where their attention to be.

Is your organization looking to explore this topic more and implement better practices around collecting and sharing demographic data? Join us at Philanthropy New York on November 27.



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