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We need more questions to unlock the value of data – #1 360Giving Data labs update

Mor Rubenstein, 360Giving’s data expert, reflects on her first eight weeks in the post of the Data Labs and Learning Manager and makes a call for more questions. 

It has been eight weeks since I started my journey as the Data Labs and Learning Manager at 360Giving. Coming from the global open data world, I was excited to learn about the world of charities and grantmaking. What I have learned is that the charitable sector is facing similar issues of data quality and use regarding open data as other sectors. The good news is that this sector is eager to learn and to experiment – the perfect place to start a data lab!

The 360Giving Data Lab will focus on building capacity to use data for decision making in the charity sector, building tools that are based on the 360Giving Standard.

In the past weeks, I have been looking at the 360Giving Standard in depth. Our standard is the key to all our work and understanding it can help us to determine the potential uses of open data in the field. I have also spoken to many people across the charity world – from funders to grant seekers, from coders to policy people.

One of the main challenges is that we still struggle in defining the questions we want to answer with data. Questions and learning are essential for creating new solutions. Coming up with good questions is not solely a problem of the charitable sector. There are many resources, like School of Data, that can help us in creating good questions which can help us to move the sector forward. An example of a good question? Good question! How is the UK charitable sector funded? Is funding going to areas identified as having the most need?

Over the next few months, we will be looking at what tools we want to create and how we want to develop our current products even further.

So, if you have a real question that will help us create tools to unlock the value of the data now being published, do get in touch.
Email me at –mor.rubinstein@threesixtygiving.org

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When is a grant not a grant…and why should we care?

Julian Tait: Project Lead, Greater Manchester Pilot

During the course of the Greater Manchester pilot, we’ve been running workshops for a broad range of grant giving organisations, providing an opportunity to listen and understand how these organisations create and use data. It should come as no surprise that grant data is recorded in a myriad of different ways using a variety of methods.

Sometimes data is recorded for a statutory requirement and collected from different departments, and for others it exists on a small spreadsheet on a grant administrator’s computer.

These data are an interpretation of the act of grant giving often represented by the language of the individual or organisation. Within an individual organisation these varying interpretations are generally not a problem, but when data is aggregated across different organisations, difference of interpretation can be magnified with a potential loss of context and understanding.

When working on technology projects it is very easy to get drawn into a lexicon of language and methods that assume the world is orderly, precise and logically constructed, whereas the opposite is often true. The challenge with any data standard, not just 360Giving, is that it has to create a framework on which different interpretations of reality can be recorded with certainty. To do this we have to make sure that we have a shared understanding of what things mean.

Within the 360Giving workshops effort is spent on defining language so that people have confidence in using the standard. As individuals we assume that people using the same words mean the same thing but often this is not the case – words are context dependent and open to interpretation – which is great for poetry but not so much for data entry.

You would assume that a grant is a well understood term – ‘non-repayable money given from one organisation to another – usually non-profit or charitable organisation – for the support of activity set out in the terms of a grant’. This is significant especially when we look at the support local authorities give to voluntary, community sector organisations and how local authorities comply with the Local Government Transparency Code in recording grants.

According to the NCVO Civil Society Almanac 2017, Local Authorities are the biggest funders of the voluntary and community sector, spending £7.4bn on grants and contracted services according to 2013/14 figures. The nature of the funding mix is roughly 50:50 for grants and contracted services in 2004, trending to 80:20 by 2014, where the larger proportion for contracted services hints at a complex and evolving relationship. When is a grant not a grant? And when is a grant a contracted service?

The nature of grant funding is changing and often – like a procured or contracted service- it is competitive. There is a finite amount of money available and a successful grant application would need to meet the criteria of the grant funding scheme, going through a selection process that would assess its quality, likelihood of delivery and due diligence. There would in all likelihood be a grant funding contract or agreement that sets out what the money has been given for and how compliance with the agreement is evidenced. Within the agreement there might also be a claw-back clause if the agreement or contract is not met. To this extent the distinction between grants and contracted services is unclear.

The grant or contract dilemma is not just one that is unique to local government either. As more organisations take a multi-partner approach to grant giving, shared and agreed definitions need to be created for not only what constitutes a grant but for the activity taking place.

The 360Giving Standard allows a wealth of information and context to be recorded, and like all good standards it is evolving to accommodate the complexities and grey areas that grant givers face. Adopting a standard to record information in the first place starts organisations off on a journey that should not only make their data more useful for themselves, but also for future partners and organisations seeking funding.

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NCVO 2017 UK Civil Society Almanac: An overview

Jack Egan, Researcher at NCVO

NCVO launched the 16th edition of the UK Civil Society Almanac in May. For those not familiar with the Almanac, it is a website and publication that provides a comprehensive overview of the structure and economy of the UK voluntary sector. It does this by drawing upon data from various sources including charities’ accounts, administrative data and surveys. I will highlight some general findings below and then dive into some of the areas that are important for grant makers and foundations.

The UK voluntary sector is broad and diverse
The UK voluntary sector is made up of around 166,000 voluntary organisations, it employs a paid workforce of 853,000 people and benefits from 14.2 million regular volunteers. Voluntary organisations operate across many fields, with children and young people being the most common beneficiary group. Most organisations are small and operate locally, however the majority of the sector’s income is concentrated within larger organisations. The sector contributes £12.2bn to the economy, equivalent to 0.7% of UK GDP. We have produced a short video which acts as a great summary and can be viewed here.

The government funding landscape is changing
One of the most interesting findings of this year’s Almanac involved the split between funding from central and local government. In 2014/15, for the first time in a decade income from central government (£7.3bn) is higher than income from local government (£7.1bn). Declining income from local government is likely to affect smaller organisations who operate locally more than others and reiterates the important role grant makers have in terms funding these smaller organisations.

In 2014/15 the sector’s income from government was £15.3bn, representing 2% of total government spending. The government made grants worth £2.9bn to voluntary organisations, however the gap between this and government contracts remained large, with £12.4bn of income from government coming as contracts. At our launch event, Rosie Ferguson (CEO of Gingerbread) noted that commissioning and tendering process is becoming increasingly complex and more tailored to larger organisations. Furthermore, contracts often do not include space for evaluation or innovation which are crucial for capacity building, particularly in smaller charities.

Voluntary sector grant making continues to be important
The voluntary sector spent £6.4bn on grants in 2014/15, with over half of this spending going to other voluntary sector organisations (54%). International voluntary organisations received the largest share of these grants (38%), followed by social service organisations (16%). A relatively small number of grant makers continue to account for a large proportion of grants made. The top ten grant makers account for more than a quarter of all grants made (26%).

Diversifying income sources is key to sustainability
Charities are becoming less dependent on grants and contract income. More than half (56%) of the increase in the sector’s income over the last two years occurred in income from individuals. It is earned income from individuals driving that growth. It now amounts to £10.5bn, representing 51% of all income from individuals. Charging for services or selling new products gives charities extra an extra income source and helps to make them more sustainable in the medium to long term.

This is just a small selection of the information and data that the Almanac provides. Please visit data.ncvo.org.uk for more.

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360Giving showcased on global Digital Impact roadshow

Last month 360Giving took part in the Digital Impact global roadshow that has been to Asia, America, India, Australia and Europe bringing together stakeholders working on issues related to digital civil society. Here Lucy Bernholz ‘philanthropy wonk’ and director of The Digital Civil Society Lab, who is leading the Digital Impact series, reflects on the London event and how data and digital literacy can deliver democracy and peace…

 

The Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society is working with local hosts and partners in 10 cities around the globe this year to learn about the shape and challenges for civil society organizations these contexts. On June 16, in partnership with the Data Science Institute of Imperial College the event series came to London. Sixty participants from government, nonprofits, foundations and other funders, digital rights activists, scholars and data scientists spent a day articulating UK perspectives.

The agenda included discussions of digital dependencies – how can civil society organizations manage and govern the digital data and infrastructure on which each sector depends in ways that align with civil society’s values?

Recognizing that digital data are now a core resource for the sector is the first step – singular pilot projects and one-off attempts at sharing across sectors are no longer enough. Several UK examples of moving beyond the pilot were presented, including the justice data lab of NPC, the shared data platforms and tools being hosted by 360Giving, and efforts to imagine new forms of nonprofits, purpose-built for data, such as Civic Trust or Feedback Commons.

Participants from all sectors agreed that the state of digital literacy is too low. Few of us have understood the distinguishing characteristics of digital data or the political economy of digital infrastructure in ways that enable smart organizational or policy decisions. While not unique to the UK, these challenges are of national political interest at the moment, as became clear during discussions of the Conservative party’s manifesto and the role of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, set to come into effect in May 2018.

To the question ‘what is the potential prize for a digitally/data literate Civil Society’, I would say a functioning digital civil society equals functioning democracies and peace. Seriously. That’s what’s on the line.

More details of the London Digital Impact Event can be read here.

Prior to arriving in London the Digital Impact team had held a similar event in Brussels and then they moved on to Berlin. Documentation of the events, including Idea Boards, session videos, and individual interviews is being shared here.

 

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Dive into data reveals government hit grantmaking bullseye with Community First Fund

The aim of the Cabinet Office’s £30m Community First Neighbourhood Matched Fund was to get small grants to the under-the-radar community projects working at the heart of the most deprived areas in the UK. Did it succeed?

Until this month, it would have been very hard to tell without extensive research where the grants went, how much was distributed, and to understand whether they ended up in the most deprived areas.

But now that the Cabinet Office has published the Community First Neighbourhood data to the 360Giving standard, it has taken me just a few hours to find out how much was distributed, where the grants went, what kinds of organisations received them and if they hit their target.

I’ve produced a short report which gives some basic stats on the grants made by the programme

It shows the largest grants were for £2,500, which was also the most frequently awarded amount – around one in five grants (3,278) was for this amount, with a further 1,171 grants made for £1,000. The average amount awarded was £1,500. Interestingly it tells us something about the life cycle of grantmaking. The grants given by the fund were generally very small: the average size of grant awarded grew slightly over the course of the fund, with a mean average of £1,274 in 2012 to £1,514 in 2014.

And by using Local Authority codes, I was able to link to data on the Index of Multiple Deprivation (sourced from the brilliant opendatacommunities site). This showed that the grants were targeted at the most deprived areas – around 35% of grants went to organisations working in the most deprived 10% of local authorities.

Then by matching to registered charity data, I brought in data on the charities that have received funding. It showed that nearly three-quarters of charities funded say they work with children and young people, and that economic and community development is another key area for them.

The value of the 360Giving Open Data Standard is that it allows for data comparison. How did the Community First Neighbourhood Matched Fund compare with the similar, though much bigger, Big Lottery Fund ‘Awards for All’ programme? Analysis showed there was a greater focus on deprived areas in Community First than Awards for All, which funded a higher number of registered charities. It was interesting to see where funding overlapped – around 500 organisations (1% of total recipients) received funding from both Community First and Awards for All.

The 360Giving Standard is built in a way that encourages making these links. By using common identifiers – “GSS” codes for local authorities and other areas, charity numbers for registered charities, company numbers – you remove the ambiguity that comes from just putting the name of the area or organisation, and it makes linking easy.

The Community First data wasn’t perfect in this regard. There were no charity numbers so I had to add them by matching with the charity register on names – however it’s a great step forward, particularly getting data from a central government grant fund.
This pretty quick analysis shows that data published to the 360Giving Open Data Standard can quickly be used to give real insight into a grant programme’s performance against its aims. It’s worth also taking a look at the official evaluation of the programme.

As well as the report, I’ve made the data analysis available on github as a jupyter notebook. This format allows you to see the python code I’m running, some commentary on what it’s doing, and the output of the code, such as charts, tables, etc.

It’s a great resource that will help with future research efforts – for example by building on previous work like this NCVO report on below the radar organisations.

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A Question of Geography…

How many times have you said “I wish we knew who was funding what in our area?”

Maybe you’ve even been that brave volunteer who offered to try and pull the data together from whatever other group members could supply – and then regretted it. At 360Giving, one of the many reasons we are passionate about encouraging charities to publish their grant-making data to our standard is because it will make that process a lot simpler.

There are now 33 funders publishing data– from The Big Lottery with 163,000 grants to One Manchester with 66. To show people what you can do with all that information we built GrantNav, just one tool that helps people uncover the stories the data can tell. This month, we caught up with funding and capacity building officers who’ve been exploring how that works.

Dipali Chandra from Charitable Trusts West Midlands, contacted the office for help with using the data in GrantNav to look at grants being awarded at ward level. After explaining some of the inner workings of the tool, we asked her what being able to access the data meant for her work. “It’s about having the conversations we’ve never been able to have before” Dipali said. “we literally used to say that we can’t discuss these questions because we don’t know anything”.

Of course, there are still limitations – GrantNav’s filtering function uses the grant recipients’ address to locate the funding, rather than the project location and many funders haven’t included this kind of information in their data yet. But with a GrantNav data report including volume funders like The Big Lottery, BBC Children in Need and Comic Relief as a starting point, the much-needed conversations were launched.

Dipali also put us in touch with Austin Rodriguez, from the Neighbourhood Development and Support Unit at Birmingham City Council. Austin describes himself as a self-taught spreadsheet wrangler. He pulled data from 360Giving data together with other information supplied directly by funders and compared it with local public sector data profiling the population and needs. From this he was able to put together a report to advise the Partners Investing in Neighbourhoods & Communities group on how they were doing at getting funding into some of the most deprived wards in Birmingham.

Graph showing amount of grant funding by ward created by Austin Rodriguez, Birmingham City Council

Austin was excited by the data because it helped him to question assumptions and provide insights about how well joined up things are (or aren’t). The myth that grants were going to only the usual suspects was debunked by the numbers (101 grants, 81 recipients). Then the data supported a strong correlation between the spread of grants across different wards, and the number of established community organisations in those wards. It also highlighted areas of significant underinvestment, compared to need and assets, as well as insights about dependency on grants.

These are just the first reports we’ve had back in to the office about how data is being used in the capacity building and fundraising sector to support decision making and learning and we’re looking forward to hearing more over the next few months.

Graph showing average grant size by ward created by Austin Rodriguez, Birmingham City Council

If these stories intrigue you, what can you do?

If you’re a bit of a data dabbler – no need to be an expert – you might like to look at our top tips for working with 360Giving Standard data and geography so you can explore some patterns and trends emerging in your area.

If you’re in Manchester we’re currently running a publishing and use of 360Giving Standard data with workshops for total technophobes right through to experienced data users – find out how you can get involved.

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Putting local charities on the map

By Leigh Dodds, Mark Owen

Bath: Hacked is a volunteer-led open data project serving the community of Bath & North East Somerset. We run a data store to collect and share local data, and work with local organisations, including the council, to help explore the benefits of open data for our community. We host hackdays, run training sessions and try to build interesting and useful things using local open data.

A lot of the work we’ve done this year has involved making maps. Maps are great ways to visualise data. Taking data locked up in spreadsheets and putting it on an interactive map creates a whole new perspective.

To showcase some of our mapping work we’ve been running a “Data Advent” again this December. We’ve been sharing a new or interesting data-driven map every day.

We often find that to understand our local area we need data from multiple sources. No single organisation has a complete picture. GrantNav does an excellent job of bringing together information on grants that have been awarded around the country.

So we decided to explore whether we could map the data from GrantNav for Bath & North East Somerset.

BathHacked map

Map of grants awarded to Bath and North East Somerset

Downloading the CSV file from GrantNav showed that the data included the name of the ward in which the project was funded. This was fantastic as that meant that we could build a map showing the level of grant funding awarded within each of the wards in our area.

Our resident mapping expert, Mark Owen did the work to build the map. The first step was to combine the GrantNav data to an open dataset of our ward boundaries, using a desktop tool called QGIS. This gave us a geographic area for each grant and not just a ward name. We then used a tool called Carto to actually create the map. It’s free to use for open data and it can very quickly produce some great interactive maps.

To add a bit of flair, Mark also used some mapping wizardry to assign a geographic location for each project. The points are randomly assigned within a ward and so don’t reflect the actual locations of the projects or grantees. That information isn’t included in the raw data available via GrantNav, which makes sense for privacy reasons. But adding the points helped give a flavour of the number and type of projects running in each ward.

We’re really pleased with the final result.

It’s the first time a map of this type has been built for the local area and it gives a great overview of the range of great local charities and projects that have had funding. We look forward to updating this as new data from GrantNav becomes available.

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Philanthropists and Funders: Why spending out and closing down needn’t mean fading away

Edafe Onerhime, Open Data Services CooperativeFoundations, charities and trusts close. This is a reality for charitable organisations and philanthropists who’ve met their goals, merged or decided to spend out their funds for any number of reasons.

Take the Northern Rock Foundation. An independent grantmaking charity, it aimed to improve quality of life in the North East of England and Cumbria. And it did, awarding £225 million in 4,400 grants between 1998 and 2014. In it’s last year, the foundation awarded £10.3 million in the form of six large awards to improve the lives of children and young people and to support voluntary organisations.

On 25th April 2016, the foundation closed.

NCVO Almanac chart of merging and closing charities

Source: NCVO, Charity Commission

Like any number of large charities closing or merging, the Northern Rock Foundation had a dilemma: How could they keep the history of the good they’d done alive even after they were gone? They looked at preserving their history through their website (the story of Northern Rock Foundation) and donating their reports to the Tyne and Wear archives, keeping the information in the public domain.

Around that time, Fran Perrin of Indigo Trust was championing a way to use data about grantmaking to support decision-making and learning across the charitable giving sector. This lead to the establishment of 360Giving. The Northern Rock Foundation decided that publishing their grantmaking data to the 360Giving Standard would not just preserve their legacy, but it would keep the information alive and useful for charities, policy makers, researchers and anyone interested in charitable giving in the UK.

So, if your organisation is winding up, what do you need to consider if you want to preserve the organisation’s funding legacy? Here are three things to think about:

1. A commitment to preservation and transparency in your organisation.
360Giving may be about grantmaking data, but all projects involve and affect people, so buy-in is key to ensure your preservation project is supported and completed before winding up.

2. A good knowledge of your grantmaking data.
As your organisation is winding up, you won’t be available to answer questions about your funding. We recommend you publish good data that is useful to the charitable sector because it is usable, which means it will be used. The 360Giving team can work with you to explore what it means to publish to the 360Giving Standard and how to get there from where you are now. This means your legacy of funding will be accurate (as you control how it is presented) and can tell your story about your organisation’s funding.

3. A commitment to openness.
All data published to the 360Giving Standard is open data. That means before you wind up, you agree on an open data license. The license tells anyone wanting to use your data that 1) it is reusable, and 2) if they need to credit your organisation (or not) wherever it’s used.

360Giving primarily focuses on UK grantmaking, but any organisation can publish its grants data to the 360Giving Standard and anyone can access and use the data internationally – all they need is access to the internet. So you can get in touch with our support team no matter where in the world you are to get the ball rolling. We don’t charge a fee as all our support is funded through grants that we receive.

Perhaps you’d like to see some examples of how we preserved Northern Rock Foundation’s legacy in data? You can download the Northern Rock Foundation grantmaking file, view the Northern Rock Foundation license page or the Northern Rock Foundation publisher page on GrantNav.

Curious about the Standard? Take a look at these frequently asked questions.

Spending out and closing down happens, fading away doesn’t have to.

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The need for good data, not just more data

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for 360Giving, with three different but complementary events emphasising the need for good quality funding data.

Firstly, there was the launch of the excellent Giving Trends report, co-written by ACF and CASS. As a newbie to the world of philanthropy, Giving Trends is my go-to report for learning about who’s funding what and how much they’re giving. It’s great to see this kind of thorough research coming out of the sector, although the report’s lead author highlighted the need for transparency and the difficulties of getting the information required to conduct her analysis – something that we hope will become easier as more organisations publish to the 360Giving Standard.

This year’s report is slightly different as it brings together research data on the top independent, family and corporate foundations. This was the right decision, as together, these 300 organisations represent 90% of all giving by value of the 10,000+ independent foundations in the UK. The main takeaway for me: Foundation spending continues to grow, reaching a record £2.7bn and matching government grants to the voluntary sector. This is despite an overall fall in income, showing ongoing commitment to charitable giving in times of austerity. But wouldn’t it be great if we could see these government and charitable grants side by side? Which brings me neatly to the second event – the launch of GrantNav.

GrantNav launch event 30 September 2016

GrantNav launch event

GrantNav launch event 30 September 2016

Photographs by Mike Massaro

 

 

 

 

 

 

We  launched GrantNav at the end last month. It was our first big public event and we were delighted by the number of people who came and told us what they liked about GrantNav; what else they’d like to be able to do with it; and that they were going to publish their data to the 360Giving Standard so they could be included too.

It’s hard to believe, but until we launched GrantNav, it wasn’t possible to get open, comparable information on UK grantmaking. Huge thanks to the 27 organisations that published their data in advance of the launch – there would be no point building platforms like this if we didn’t have data to go into it, so all credit to them for leading the way. We look forward to more organisations joining them in the coming months so watch this space. And in the meantime, have a play and tell us what you think: grantnav@threesixtygiving.org

And the third event? That was the 2016 International Open Data Conference. For all you open data advocates out there, Madrid was the place to be. We shared ideas on how to join up open data standards; launched a new project looking at how to accurately identify organisations; and we talked about the dangers of over-claiming on open data (it’s not going to end poverty apparently). But we also saw great examples of real-life problems open data has helped to fix. This has inspired us to start looking at how we use the grants data being made available. So, if you’re a grantmaker working in Scotland or Manchester, come and speak with us as we’d love to know what issues you’re struggling with and to test out how 360 data might help with the solution.

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Visualising media grants

Katherine Duerden photoThe Foundation Center and Media Impact Funders have launched a new tool for visualising media grants: http://maps.foundationcenter.org/?acct=media. It plots foundations and grantees onto a global map, and enables reporting on the flow of funds to support a wide range of media and technology initiatives.

The tool features data on grants dating back to 2009 and includes extensive detail about all aspects of the funding. Alongside the locations of funder, recipient and the type of media initiative being supported, it’s possible to filter by beneficiary group, type of funder and recipient organisation and whether the grant was given for capacity or network building, research or advocacy, or ongoing costs, etc. Even if you don’t have a special interest in civil society media initiatives, it is easy to use the interface to start drilling down into the detail and see the potential of the tool, and how grants data can provide real insights into a subject area, region or funder network. The connections between funders and recipient organisations are particularly well visualised through its ‘constellations’ feature which cleverly show the areas of overlap between funders, making it easy to see complex interconnections.

The focus is inevitably on funding from US foundations as the data draws on the US-based Foundation Center database of grants reported directly by foundations or collected from their websites and other public sources. This dataset has been built over decades and has involved scraping from PDFs – a process that requires painstaking manual cleaning and coding. Not all the information is for US funders though, with details of foundations around the world, including 37 UK foundations, some of whom are publishing to the open data standard developed by 360Giving. As more UK grantmakers publish their grants to the 360Giving standard, it will become even easier to develop tools to make sense of the “who, where, what and why” of the funding ecology.

We know that making it easy to access and explore grants data is key to unlocking the usefulness of the information and the Media Mapping tool is a great example of what’s possible. That is why alongside supporting grantmakers to publish their grants information in an open, comparable format, we’re also developing GrantNav, an online platform that enables users to see a more comprehensive picture of UK grantmaking, with the ability to search by sector, funder or region. GrantNav is currently in development and undergoing extensive user testing to ensure it will be useful to a wide audience.

Because 360Giving data is published under an open license, there is potential for anyone to access and use it for their own purposes, so we hope to see more searchable platforms, maps and visualisations developed as the dataset improves.

A key part of GrantNav’s development has been gathering user feedback, to make sure it’s as useful as possible. Based on this feedback, we’ve recently added a ‘download data’ option to the latest version, as this was highlighted as a key requirement. The Foundation Maps for Media Funding tool has its own export function, although we found it fiddly to use, sometimes needing several downloads to build a useful report – our only criticism of this otherwise impressive and useful tool. We hope the Foundation Center will continue to develop its visualisations of grants data, and look forward to seeing UK grants published to the 360Giving standard appearing in such tools in future.

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