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Philanthropy and Democracy

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What are foundations doing to support U.S. democracy? A new tool for the field was brought to our attention by the Hewlett Foundation


“Who is funding whom, to do what?”

Kelly Born of Hewlett Foundation asks this question in a recent blog post. It is a natural question for any Foundation, charity, entrepreneur, or business looking to enter a new market. Unfortunately the answer tends to be far more ambiguous for those entering the democracy reform space.

Kelly makes it clear that“not knowing the answers to basic funding questions makes coordination, let alone collaboration, unnecessarily difficult.” In the case of philanthropically supporting the U.S. government, the lack of clarity is heightened, with “details learned are often forgotten, so every time there is a funder convening, or every time a new funder comes along, the landscape analysis must be redone.”

As such, in 2013 eight foundations gathered under the guidance of the Foundation Centre to more effectively work together. Specifically, this means better communications and teamwork to solve the question of “who is funding whom, to do what?”  The partners in this campaign are: Carnegie Corporation of New York, The JPB Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Omidyar Network’s Democracy Fund, Open Society Foundations, the Rita Allen Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Hewlett Foundation.

The result of their work is an online, interactive, data-based visualization tool: Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy.

What’s fundamentally unique about this, as Kelly points out, “is as useful as this data set and visualization will be for foundations already working in the field or new funders considering entering it, the real killer app for this work will be to help grant seekers.” It is an ideal method of researching both Foundations, and how well funding causes are in your areas of interest.

As Kelly concludes, this data set presents a great step in transparency and research, and “provides information that is both important and indeed urgent for nonprofits working to secure and expand the resources they need to advance their missions to improve the health of our democracy.”


It may well be a work in progress, but it sounds like a great start, and one we hope you and your organisation can utilise.

For further reading, we recommend the blog post by Foundation Center President, Brad Smith, summarising his observations and patterns in the data.

Let us know what you think on Twitter.