How The Philanthropy Workshop Inspired My Campaign for Grantmaker Transparency

Fran Perrin
The Indigo Trust

My experience with The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW) has inspired me in so many ways. One of the most powerful aspects has been the opportunity for peer learning—the chance to observe different approaches to philanthropy, different causes, and different mechanisms for achieving change. For a student of strategic giving, this safe space to learn allowed me to become confident enough to innovate. But beyond the confines of TPW, I still found it extremely difficult to find out what other donors are doing, and how they are giving. Thus, I set up the 360 Giving initiative to make it easier for donors to publish and share their grants.

Grantmaking remains astonishingly opaque—for funders and grant seekers alike. Not knowing who funds whom creates huge inefficiencies in how we distribute funds and how grant seekers apply for them. Lack of information makes it more difficult for fledgling donors or those moving into new areas. Transparency can offer many benefits to donors and those whose lives we aim to improve.

Inspired by conversations with other donors, I established the 360 Giving initiative. While still in its early stages, this work encourages a pragmatic, needs-led approach to transparency about grantmaking.  We provide funders with the ability to publish their grant data for others to reuse. Through my initiative, I’ve been meeting with philanthropists—both individuals and foundations—to answer their questions and concerns. I’ve been thrilled by the response as philanthropists in the UK recognise how a simple thing like publishing a spreadsheet can help other donors and grantees. We now have a prototype searchable database that includes an estimated 240,000 grants in the UK worth some £16 billion over a 20 year period.

The 360 Giving database is entirely public, and published to open standards—not hidden behind a subscription service. I’ve worked with my relatives so that nine of our family foundations now publish their grants as open data. In my foundation, The Indigo Trust, we publish all our grants both on our foundation's blog and in an open data format.

Occasionally there is good reason not to be wholly transparent, particularly in human rights work; although by generalising from exceptions we miss the opportunity to help inform grantmaking and improve impact for the whole sector. For example, at Indigo Trust we withheld information about a specific grant that concerned anti-corruption activists in a developing country where transparency could have jeopardized their lives. We published the fact that a grant of ‘x’ amount had been made, however, the detail wasn’t published for security concerns. When the situation changed, with the permission of the grantee, we published the full information, and were encouraged to blog about the project by the grantee.

Internationally it’s an exciting time for the sector. In the United States, The Foundation Center has been leading work to encourage donor transparency. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has begun publishing all their grants data to an international open data standard.

Is transparency a panacea for philanthropists? Absolutely not—but it can improve our decision-making. I hope that TPW members and other funders within our community will feel encouraged to share more data about their grantmaking online.

Fran Perrin is director of the Indigo Trust, founding member of 360 Giving, and an alumna and board member of The Philanthropy Workshop. Follow her on Twitter @franindigo

Editor's Note: 360 Giving is a funder-led initiative by the Indigo Trust and UK innovation charity NESTA collaborating with other partners.

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