Last week I posted a note about the Foundation Center and its online database. I got a reply from George Ford that clarified the Foundation Center’s approach to the information available online. In particular, George wrote:
That said, we’ll continue to review stated policies and procedures relating to FDO and all of our products and services in the interests of clarity and transparency. Our goal is to make these resources as useful as possible to our audiences, so we’re very interested in receiving feedback about the information presented.
To that end, here are a two additional points.
George noted that the online database product is designed primarily to help grantseekers find sources of funding, which is both why it’s limited to a five-year period and why it doesn’t include data from foundations that have closed or merged operations. However, while accurate, there is a segment of the philanthropic community that would benefit from the more expansive database and not the truncated version now available.
For example, back in 2000, when I joined the American Legacy Foundation (Legacy’s) and developed its grantmaking efforts, I spent considerable amount of time researching other funders and their approaches to funding tobacco control efforts. If I was to replicate that today, I would not be able to pull up information on Legacy’s $25 million youth empowerment initiative or Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s $50M+ SmokeLess States initiative since both awarded prior to 2003. And those initiatives significantly affected the tobacco control landscape. As a colleague at the Packard Foundation said to me, I would need to go back to finding the original Form 990s filed by the funders.
In addition, the five-year period seems to arbitrary. While most funders still award grants that are 36 months or less in duration, there are plenty funders that will provide grants in excess of five years. To test this out, I ran a search query on the database for grants authorized in 2003 that were between six and ten years in duration. The results: 60 grants (mostly program-related investments) ranging between $50,000 and $40,000,000 for a total of $143,417,651 in funding. These grants will disappear from the database next year even though they will still be active grants. Out of curiosity, I ran the query for 2004 and ended up with 52 grants totaling nearly $1 billion that would no longer show up in 2011.
I believe the Foundation Center is well positioned to serve as the primary research source for grantmaking activity. I would strongly encourage it to reconsider its five-year policy on grantmaking activities.
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