Letting Data Take the Wheel

Letting Data Take the Wheel

Alex van VlietLloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales supports small and medium-sized charities committed to delivering work which breaks or prevents cycles of disadvantage. Here, the Foundation’s Research and Data Analyst, Alex Van Vliet, explains how comparing its grantmaking data with other data openly available via 360Giving offers fascinating insight into the importance, relevance and future direction of their work.

We first published our grantmaking data to 360Giving’s open data standard in early 2016, when we released details of all our grants from 2010 onwards. We update our data file with new grants every six months and it now includes details of over 4,700 grants.

In August 2017, 360Giving’s Data Labs and Learning Manager, Mor Rubinstein, released a complex (but fun!) map of the data showing where there is overlap between grantmakers funding the same organisations.

The map helped confirm what we knew anecdotally – lots of our grantees are also funded by a small group of our grantmaking peers – but provoked discussion about whether this data could help us inform and prioritise what we fund in future.

Over the past year, we have been asking deep questions about our future grantmaking practice – exploring where we could make changes to our funding criteria, while remaining aware of the potential impact on current and future grantees. If we changed our focus – or withdrew from funding some issues – could this affect some of the sectors we currently fund more than others? Could we make better decisions by using the available data more systematically?

To begin answering those questions, I used 360Giving’s GrantNav platform to pull all the grants data being shared in the 360Giving Standard covering the past four years (2014-2017) – a large enough dataset even in September 2017, but the number of funders listed on GrantNav has now doubled, so it now includes more than 250,000 grants!

I mapped which other funders had made grants to the charities funded by us. I then double-checked this data to find near-misses using postcodes and Charity Commission registration numbers. This took us from 55,000 lines of data to a more manageable 2,500.

Exploring the spreadsheet, I discovered:

  • 31 other funders had made grants to the same grantees as Lloyds Bank Foundation in the same period; but for half of those funders, this was fewer than 10 co-funded charities.
  • The Big Lottery Fund is our most significant co-funder. Of the 871 charities that we supported between 2014 and 2017, 513 (59%) also received a grant from the Lottery in the same period.
  • The Tudor Trust, Esmée Fairbairn and Comic Relief were the organisations with the next closest overlap. For Esmée and Comic Relief, this is significantly driven by our shared funding interest in the domestic abuse sector.
  • 206 (24%) of the charities funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation didn’t have grants from any of the other 360Giving publishers during the same period.

Some of these findings are reassuring. Many of our peers, each with their own focus, are supporting the same charities – hopefully because they stand out!

Leading the way to more collaboration
But they also show that where funding is very closely aligned, we could be doing more to collaborate. Already Lloyds has worked closely with the Big Lottery Fund in 2017 to share assessment processes and jointly fund charities. We value our many other partnerships highly, but this data helps us to recognise overlaps – like a shared interest in tackling domestic abuse – that could inform future partnerships.

Sector lens
The data was also used to interrogate whether things looked different according to the sector the charity was working in. Pulling in data from our own records and matching 360Giving identifiers to our internal grants database, I overlaid our internal sector labels to analyse groups of grantees working on similar issues.

I discovered:

  • At aggregate, Lloyds Bank Foundation was responsible for 21% of the grant funding among our grantees, but this varied significantly by sector. For our grantees working in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, we contributed a third of all their grant income in the dataset.
  • 40% of the homelessness charities we supported didn’t have grants from any other 360Giving funder – significantly higher than our average, and potentially making us more significant to this cohort.
  • Things can look different if you count grants or money. In some sectors, our grants have a low cash value compared to the grants given out by other funders. For others, we may not be making huge numbers of grants, but the cash value is significant for those charities compared to other funders.

Should this data change our direction?
The funding data made available through 360Giving is changing the way we think for the better. Being aware of the way we fund in relation to others helps us navigate our future path. For example, where independent funders overlap this might be due to a deficit of other funding sources, such as public commissioning or individual giving. Where we find ourselves funding a higher proportion than others, this could indicate a gap in the funding market. The data prompts us to ask important questions, and find answers in facts rather than instinct.

But all data has its limitations. Firstly, we could only look at co-funding from grantmakers who are publishing to 360Giving – a large dataset, but its not yet representative of the grantmaking sector as whole. We hope other funders will join us and share their data so we can see the bigger picture.

Secondly, because we can only map sectors for our own grantees, we don’t know very much about the funding landscape for the charities we aren’t funding in the same sector.

Finally, for some of the smaller sectors we work in – like modern slavery and trafficking – our sample of grantees is small, making it harder to make firm judgements about the broader funding environment for charities working on that issue.

So where does this leave us? It is a truism of strategy that in decision making, data cannot be substituted for experience and experience cannot be substituted for data. Here at the Lloyds Bank Foundation, our expertise comes from our relationships with charities: understanding their needs on a human level, not just by crunching numbers. With the help of data we can ‘zoom out’ too – understanding the wider landscape as we map our funding future.