Errors in “The Philanthropic Landscape”

posted on: September 7, 2012

Yesterday, we learned that the Foundation Center data used for “The Philanthropic Landscape: The State of Multi-Year Funding,” released just this week, were inaccurate. According to the Foundation Center’s director of research, Steven Lawrence:

“Due to a programming error, figures provided by the Foundation Center for ‘The State of Multi-Year Funding’ misstated the level of multi-year foundation support for the periods 2004-06 and 2008-10. The Center is working with NCRP to correct these data for a revised version of the report.”

As an organization and especially as the co-authors, we take great pride in our research and remain steadfast in our commitment to accuracy and accountability. As a result, the report has been pulled, pending revision, and we apologize for the inconvenience.

The errors were neither in the Foundation Center’s grants database nor in our analysis of what we received but rather in how the data on multi-year grants were compiled for our use. Steven informed us of the problem as soon as he became aware of it, and we’re working to correct the record in the same way. We have every confidence in the Foundation Center’s data and its work, and look forward to analyzing the new numbers and creating an accurate report.

Others have documented philanthropy’s aversion to multi-year giving and a more recent downward trend in multi-year giving because of the recession. We saw our results as yet more confirmation of these trends and what nonprofits around the country consistently tell us. We don’t yet know how different the revised report will be from the original. But we can say that the numbers will more accurately reflect what foundations around the country have been reporting to the Foundation Center about the nature of their grants.

Obtaining and presenting proper data on the foundation world is difficult. It’s not as if all of the things we hope to learn about foundations are easily understood from a quick glance at a website or a Form 990.

The more information foundations can make available to the public and the more that information is rigorously organized, examined and reported, the more effective and accountable our philanthropic sector can be.

We will continue to use resources like the Foundation Center’s grants sample database and do the best we possibly can to paint an accurate picture of where the sector is on the issues we care about. We will release a more accurate analysis of multi-year giving as soon as the new data are made available to us.

Niki Jagpal is research and policy director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

Kevin Laskowski is research and policy associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).