Data for Strategic Giving (Part 2)

Data is integral to how funders, grantmakers and philanthropic organisations collaborate, make informed decisions, and learn about their impact. On the one hand, data can help grant makers determine how to respond to needs, develop interventions, and improve their efficiency. On the other hand, use of data can enable funders and grantees establish that their interventions lead to lasting change.

In this blog – the second of two reflection pieces on data for strategic giving, we focus on how data and social learning can help advance philanthropy. While the first part captures the role of data in making better philanthropic decisions, this part highlights the significance of data in informing impact.

Data has immense potential to inform impact as it enables grantmakers to reflect on two pertinent questions:

I. How much did we do?

II. How much did it matter?

I. How much did we do?

There are two integral parts to consider while answering this question:

a. How much did we fund? – The amount of grants or donations.

b. What was the funding amount allocated towards? – The outputs of a program that was funded.

Data around the funding amount and outputs of a program demonstrate the scale of philanthropic efforts. But, in order to effectively answer the question ‘How much did we do?’  – it is important for funders to work with grantees to collect and observe data around delivery of the program(s).

Quality and consistent data around program activities, collected over a period of time, can help improve the initiative and manage resources better. For example, it would be essential to learn that a counselling service supported 1500 domestic violence victims in a given year, especially if the previous year’s number was 600. Such data is crucial to demonstrate the need for a program and ascertain its outcome. It further supports funders in making informed decisions to advance their philanthropic goals. Therefore, it is highly imperative for funders and grantmakers to dedicate resources to regularly collect, review and publish data around delivery of programs.

II. How much did it matter?

The discourse around philanthropy must  move from ‘how much did we do?’ to ‘how much did it matter?’ i.e., there is a need for funders to look beyond outputs/activities to focus on outcomes/social impact. Data around outputs of a program is key to measuring its performance. To further evaluate the outcome of the program, there is a need to assess the outputs in the context of (i) the funders’ philanthropic goals, and (iii) the needs of today.

For example, while evaluating the impact of a counselling service that supported 1500 domestic violence victims in Ireland in 2021; it would be pertinent to learn that the number of domestic violence disclosures in Ireland for the year stood at 33,831. Further, assessing this data in line with what the funder set out to achieve and how the program advanced that goal, will help build a comprehensive understanding around the impact made.

In the context of evaluating the social impact of a program, there is no one prescriptive metrics that can be adopted by all. Although guidance around impact evaluation exists, there is still a strong need for collective efforts that help develop best practices, advance knowledge sharing, and promote social learning. I.e., There is a need for new knowledge to be built as an outcome of interaction between funders and grantmakers. This would result in developing a shared understanding; comprehensive tools and common frameworks for impact evaluation; thus, leading to collective action.


Inspiring Impact is an international collaborative programme, working with the charity sector to help organisations know what to measure and how to measure. Inspiring Impact aims to change the way the UK voluntary sector thinks about impact and make high-quality impact measurement the norm for charities and social enterprises. The collaborative has put together several resources including a self-assessment tool, an impact hub and a code of impact practice consultation which were developed with consultation and the input of a working group of 17 organisations.

Good Measure — a collaborative of foundations in central Texas, USA which is committed to strengthening the community’s ability to collect, access, and utilise data for program learning and improvement. It is an association of philanthropic organisations that work together with community partners to creatively and strategically use data to amplify impact.Good Measure operates with the belief that opening an honest dialogue about what works, what doesn’t, and why is critical to achieving transformational community change. With these insights, the collaborative adopted a theory of change that seeks to achieve progress in several key areas and also developed a set of guiding principles for the role of data in the funder/grantee relationship. This initiative promotes measuring what matters and works to build sector capacity around the same.

Data for impact – good data for improved social learning:

Data plays a central role in informing funders and grantmakers on the outcomes of initiatives supported by them. Assessing the impact of philanthropic efforts largely involves reviewing program data, asking the right questions, and evaluating what matters. While there is no one size fits all solution to informing impact, data transparency and knowledge sharing can promote improved impact evaluation and social learning.

Trusts, foundations, grantmakers and philanthropists in Ireland are increasingly sharing data around their programs in the form of impact reports, case studies and impact maps, among others. Yet, there is a strong need for collective efforts around knowledge sharing in the sector. Through its upcoming initiatives, Philanthropy Ireland aims to build more space, capacity, and resources to enable sector wide knowledge sharing and social learning.

By Pavithra Ramesh
Impact Research Lead
Philanthropy Ireland