Bringing Data to the Democracy and Philanthropy Discussion
New data tools show elections and campaigns only small focus of foundation funding for U.S. democracy
Manager of Knowledge Services Communications
New York, NY— October 17, 2018. Foundation Center has launched new dashboards on its Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy site, a nonpartisan data visualization platform featuring tens of thousands of grants, publicly available to anyone interested in understanding philanthropy's role in U.S. democracy. Perhaps surprisingly, the dashboards reveal that only 12 percent of democracy funding from foundations is directed toward campaigns and elections. Civic participation and government each account for about 37 percent, while funding towards journalism and media account for 28 percent of total democracy funding
The platform defines foundation funding for democracy as efforts by foundations to foster an engaged and informed public and support government accountability and integrity, and includes funding for policy research and advocacy. It compiles over 50,000 grants awarded by nearly 6,000 funders totaling $4.6 billion across four major categories: campaigns and elections, civic participation, government strengthening, and media. The new dashboards, one for each of the four subject categories, allow users to browse through granular grants-level information and provide a detailed picture of how institutional philanthropy is engaging with U.S. democracy.
Recent journalistic and academic interest in philanthropy and its interplay with democratic processes has reinvigorated the enduring debate around the role of philanthropy in a democratic society. A practical starting point is to learn more about what grantmakers are actually doing to affect democracy in the United States.
“At a time of increased foundation scrutiny, this publicly-available platform provides transparency to the field and complements broader discussions about the role of philanthropy in a democratic society by offering concrete details about relevant grantmaking,” says Anna Koob, knowledge services manager at Foundation Center.
The data is useful for journalists, staff at nonprofits and foundations, and anyone in the general public who is interested in understanding philanthropy’s engagement with U.S. democracy. The new dashboards allow users to see how funding breaks down for each of the four major categories, and includes data that can help identify:
- The largest funders of campaigns and elections work
- How grantmaking in support of civic participation is broken down by population type
- What strategies are used to affect democracy work
- The largest recipients of grants for journalism and media
Some insights from the data:
- About two percent of all philanthropic funding in the United States meets our criteria for democracy funding. A modest amount considering that this subset captures a wide range of topics, including money in politics, civic education, civil rights litigation, and journalism.
- Funding for campaigns and elections is the smallest of the four major funding categories tracked. While most people might think of elections as the basic mechanism of democracy, this category only constitutes about 12 percent of democracy funding represented in the tool.
- Less than a quarter of funding supports policy and advocacy work. Work to effect policy is often considered front and center when discussing philanthropy’s impact on democracy, but the data reveal that many funders are working in other ways that strengthen democracy, but have less direct implications for public policy.
The Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy site also features a collection of research on U.S. democracy, powered by IssueLab, links to a number of relevant blog posts, and hosts infographics developed using data from the tool. You can access the dashboards and all other resources for free at democracy.foundationcenter.org.
About Foundation Center
Established in 1956, Foundation Center is the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide. Through data, analysis, and training, it connects people who want to change the world to the resources they need to succeed. Foundation Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grantmakers and their grants — a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector. It also operates research, education, and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level. Thousands of people visit Foundation Center's website each day and are served in its five regional library/learning centers and its network of more than 450 funding information centers located in public libraries, community foundations, and educational institutions nationwide and around the world. For more information, please visit foundationcenter.org, call (212) 620-4230, or tweet us at @fdncenter.