Knowledge Services for Smarter Philanthropy

I had some visitors to my Foundation Center office the other day, and I gave them a quick, behind-the-scenes tour.

In one corner, there was a stand-up “scrum” of our application development and strategic philanthropy staff checking in about a custom map showing early childhood funding for East Africa. Passing by an enclave, we overheard a Skype discussion with our knowledge management directors about sharing what funders have learned about effective immigration reform. Around another table, our researchers and data indexers used guidance from an advisory committee to figure out better ways to monitor philanthropy’s response to disasters.

As a former philanthropic advisor and program officer (and affinity group board member and regional association staffer—yes, I’ve been working in philanthropy for a while!), I can’t help but get excited about the incredibly useful tools and platforms that emerge from this teamwork. At Foundation Center, we’ve started to refer to these types of projects as Knowledge Services.

In the past, I relied on my personal network, practical experience, and issue expertise to do my work. Believe me, there’s no replacing that. In the back of my mind, I sort of knew there had to be easier, less-redundant ways to find, create, and update what I needed to know. But I was constantly pressed for time, so I pushed those nagging thoughts aside and kept forging ahead. I’m psyched because I really think these Knowledge Services can transform the way that funders approach their work.

Data-Driven Tools and Content-Rich Platforms

Knowledge Services are data-driven tools and content-rich platforms developed by Foundation Center for funders and their networks, consultants, advisors, and grantees. Examples include:

  • Foundation Maps: a data visualization platform through which users can explore the world of philanthropy and that allows us to create custom options to further leverage its functionality and data;
  • Foundation Ideas: shareable collections of reports, evaluations, and case studies that can help a foundation understand what all foundations already know—saving time and money; and
  • Foundation Landscapes: issue-based web portals for scanning and collaboration that combine funding information, research, news, and stories in one place to enable funders and practitioners to make the most of what they are learning.

Freely Accessible

Most of what falls under our Knowledge Services is accessible to the public at no charge. Foundations with passionate interests in specific issues, strategies, and geographies provide us with grants or contracts so we can create resources useful to them, fellow funders, grantees, and others working in the field. These interests include black male achievement, capacity building, disaster philanthropy, fisheries, human rights, LGBTQ funding, media, palliative care, U.S. democracy, water, and youth philanthropy.

Some Knowledge Services are custom projects developed for partners and made available as a benefit exclusively to their constituents. A few are subscription-based.

A new section of Foundation Center’s website,, makes it easy to learn about our full set of offerings and explore specific components that pique your interest.

GrantCraft and Knowledge Services

Last week’s visitor tour revealed examples of our work in progress. A series of earlier scrums, Skypes, and cross-departmental work led to the latest round of Knowledge Services launches.

Over the past two weeks, Foundation Center released Foundation Maps Professional 2.0 with a free trial offer, a Foundation Research analysis on funding for nonprofit and philanthropic infrastructure, a Foundation Landscapes portal filled with U.S. education-related reports, stats, lists, resources, and news, and a Foundation Ideas collection on African giving.

In the next few weeks, we will complete three custom versions of Foundation Maps, publish two additional Foundation Research reports, wrap up another Foundation Ideas collection, and launch a new Foundation Landscapes portal.

We know that sorting through tools and platforms to find what’s useful in your work can be challenging. GrantCraft already provides convenient access through its strategy, issue, and content type (“Foundation Center Features”) tags; RSS feed; and e-newsletter. But with an increasing array of new projects coming online every week, we’re going to add additional coverage of Knowledge Services to GrantCraft to help you more easily engage with these resources.


Knowledge Services in Action

I love working with funders who don’t suppress their nagging thoughts about how philanthropy can work smarter. These folks recognize that information, analysis, and technology hold great promise for transforming a sector that talks about impact and effectiveness, but too often defaults to business as usual. We’re experimenting with several foundations on ways to infuse Knowledge Services into the daily routines of their staff, as vital supplements to whom and what they already know.

These donors—and like-minded philanthropy network staff, consultants, advisors, and grantees—aren’t Pollyannas; they know that behavioral change is hard and slow. But all of them, like those of us at Foundation Center, keep at it because the potential is so great.

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About the author(s)

Vice President for Strategic Philanthropy
Foundation Center