Wow. The Foundation Center has just rolled out one of the coolest philanthropy products I’ve ever seen. Their new Philanthropy In/Sight is a Google Map powered program that let’s you map foundations and their grantees. At first glance this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Until you see the detail with which the program allows you to filter the data. You can watch a short video demo of the tool here.
Let’s say you wanted to see all grants made by California foundations within a specific congressional district? Done. How about all grants made by the Ford Foundation to geographic areas that have higher than average rates of poverty? Done. The “Thematic Data” filter in the program lets you map out grants in relation to local education levels, average income, population density, general levels of health, etc. The list is detailed and relevant.
There are a ton of ways that this can be used. A smart philanthropy reporter is going to buy this program and use it to uncover some interesting stories about grantmaking behavior.
But I care about this because of the way it lets you “follow the smart money”.
As I’ve described in the past, in for-profit financial markets it is common for people to “follow the smart money” or invest the those companies whom other very successful investors own. You can see this dynamic at work each quarter when Warren Buffett’s current investment holdings are revealed. The stocks he has bought or sold in the past quarter are reported on CNBC as breaking news and the price of those stocks he has bought move higher as other investors pile in.
While foundations have long released all of their grantees in the public Form 990-PF, there has never been a tool that makes it really easy for philanthropists to filter this data in useful ways. But Philanthropy In/Sight changes that.
Let’s say you are an individual donor in New York city and you are interested in supporting a high performing nonprofit that works to improve education in your home town. With Philanthropy In/Sight you could generate a map of all education focused nonprofits that have received grants from foundations with more than $500 million in assets. While this list should by no means be seen as a guaranteed list of great nonprofits, it would be a list of organizations that had successfully undergone due diligence from very well resourced funders. It would be an excellent place for a donor to start thinking about what nonprofits to fund.
Of course, a more sophisticated donor might create a custom set of foundations that they respected. A donor with an interest in social entrepreneurship type organizations might create a set of foundations that identify as social entrepreneurship funders and then map out the issue areas and geographic locations that were relevant to the donor.
Philanthropy In/Sight works on a global basis and it can drill down to individual neighborhoods. It can be used to track broad grantmaking behavior across large segments of foundations or it can be used to map the activities of a single foundation. Powered by Google, the tools is clearly an example of the Googlization of Philanthropy. But designed by the Foundation Center it affirms my view that the Googlization of Philanthropy will be driven by many players, not by Google individually.
Philanthropy In/Sight costs as much as $1,500 a year to use. It seems to me that figuring out a way to subsidize the cost and make it available to the general public would be an excellent project for a foundation who cares about helping individual donors make better decisions.