ARTICLE: 5 Foundation Trends for 2019: Conquering the Unknown with the Help of Data

January 9, 2019 Annie Rhodes

As we start a new year, it’s a good time to pause and celebrate the great work that your foundation and your peers across the social sector accomplished last year. 2018 was a record-setting year for philanthropy – from the massive fundraising effort in June around reuniting families (setting a record on Facebook) to a 10% increase in average gift amount YOY for #GivingTuesday, as reported by Blackbaud. Though the official numbers for 2018 won’t be out for several months, Giving USA reported giving by foundations in 2017 to be up 6%, totaling $66.9 billion. With the massive level of generosity and funding that we saw this year and in 2017, is it possible that the trend will continue in 2019? I think so, and this growth of funding from sources like companies and individuals should be considered when making your 2019 strategic plans.

Here are the five trends I see having the most impact on foundations in this coming year, starting with these new potential partners:

  1. Partnerships and Data

In 2019, public-private partnerships will continue to rise, with the government, nonprofits, foundations, and companies working together to solve social challenges. Why? Some of the problems faced by society today are just too large to conquer alone. We’ve seen this recently with climate change efforts as well as the massive cost of disaster relief and recovery. This coming year it will be important for the public, private, and social sectors to collaborate, focusing on the root causes of social challenges and making systems changes that address those core drivers. A key piece to understanding those root causes as well as coordinating an effective response will be an increased focus on data. Foundations should aim to have the necessary data in their hands before meeting with partners so that an optimal program is in place from the beginning to achieve your desired outcomes.

  1. Heightened interest data protections and cyber security

We continue to have a focus around data sharing and cyber security within the sector. Foundations are working with their technology partners to ensure that they and the organizations they support were not negatively impacted by the reported data breaches in 2018, and will also take a lead in advocating for protections for nonprofits and their data in 2019. While your foundation is developing a strategy to collect the necessary data for analysis, make sure you include a conversation on what technology you will invest in to protect that data.

  1. Outcomes and Impact

Consideration of your desired outcomes should permeate your conversations internally around your foundation’s programs. Many funders I’ve spoken with have expressed concern that their funding isn’t having the impact that they intended and therefore are looking for more data and information from their grantee partners. In 2019 we will see the conversation around outcomes grow, with increasing pressure for funders to report on the true impact of their efforts in the community. To be ready to answer this question, brainstorm today with the relevant stakeholders what the desired outcomes of your 2019 programs are. A logic model may help, or learn how SEFCU created their social impact strategy.

Learn more about how your outcomes strategy stacks up to other foundations. Read “Exploring Impact Measurement at Foundations.”

  1. Continued Hyper-Focus on Specific Problems

One way that funders are addressing this concern about measurable impact is by narrowing their focus and directing funds toward driving greater impact in a single programmatic area. This shift to concentrating on a single outcome can help your foundation when developing its logic model or social change strategy and streamline your grantee application process. After all, if you’re looking for very specific outcomes and ask applicants how they can help support your journey to get there, you should only receive applications from grantees that focus on the same goals as your foundation.

  1. Focus on advocacy for partners and for the field itself

2018 brought us with a lot of tax implications that will affect the sector and individual staff members within the sector.  We are continuing to see an increase in foundations rallying together to ensure the sanctity of the private foundation as an organization type will not be impacted.  We will also continue to see an increase in oversight on nonprofits, so foundations will have to ensure that nonprofits have the support they need to carry out their missions. Work with your peers to educate others on the role private foundations play in the social good ecosystem, and collaborate to spread awareness on the positive impact this type of organization has helped to achieve.

 

In addition to thinking about these five trends, foundations will also be operating with an increasing lack of certainty for how legislation and politics will affect the social sector. There is a growing sentiment that certain services may lose funding from the federal government, which would mean grants would need to fill those gaps. We’re also hearing increased concern from foundations around potential changes to payout requirements that will require foundations to distribute more funding each year. These are two very big areas that could drastically affect your program planning for 2019.

The good news is that the trends discussed in this post can help guide your way. It is easy to get overwhelmed thinking about new reporting demands or changes in your funding mix due to forces outside of your control. But if you can do the following, I’m confident your foundation will see another terrific year creating change in areas that are most important to your mission:

  • Collect the data you need and get the tools necessary to understand that data (and protect it!)
  • Identify your desired outcomes and the programs needed to get there. Maybe that means narrowing your area of focus.
  • Don’t be afraid of new partnerships!

 

Happy New Year, and we look forward to continuing to work with you in 2019!

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