Editorial: The Power of Philanthropic Data

Par Iryna Khovrenkov , Researcher and Co-director of PhiLab's Western Hub
13 January 2021

The Power of Philanthropic Data

Data really powers everything that we do.

Jeff Weiner, Board Member of the Grace Science Foundation and CEO of LinkedIn


Philanthropic DataData is important. From simple reference about the weather to elaborate collections for COVID-19 vaccine development – data empowers our lives. Philanthropy is no exception. Data about the philanthropic sector creates opportunities for those who study philanthropy (academics, researchers), for those who finance philanthropy (grantmakers, philanthropic funders) and for those who operate philanthropic organizations (managers, directors). The possibilities created by data are further multiplied when the data can be shared. This is the founding principle of data philanthropy, a term first introduced in 2011 by the United Nations Global Pulse. Data philanthropy is a type of collaboration, where private companies share the data for public benefit to help solve complex issues such as poverty, climate change, various diseases, to name a few. For example, Western Digital Corporation and the United Nation have partnered to explain how data philanthropy can accelerate action in climate change and this short YouTube video captures the essence of their collaboration.

The primary source of Canada’s philanthropic data has been the information collected from charity returns (form T3010) that registered charities file annually with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). While the data are administrative in nature, they offer rich financial information about every single charity in Canada (over 86,000 charities) since 1992. These data are also open and access to them is cost-free. With only a few clicks, one can learn about a charity’s revenue sources and assets, its funders and fundraising. CRA’s sharing of the data with the public creates opportunities for growing Canadian philanthropic sector through research and analysis. The GovLab authors of the case study entitled “Opening Canada’s T3010 Charity Information Return Data” thoroughly discuss the benefits of having Canadian charity data freely accessible to the public. They also emphasize the importance of these data for policy makers and for the leaders of charitable organization leaders. While many more researchers are tapping into the research potential of Canada’s charity data, the philanthropic sector can also utilize it as a tool to learn about its funding capabilities, its sources of revenues and much more. In its data and evidence-based grantmaking brief, Philanthropic Foundations Canada highlight that, for example, grants data can help funders determine which initiatives are needing funding so that the funding gap is filled, and duplications (with government) is avoided.

Bill Gates, a noted philanthropist, has declared that data is what makes it possible to “find the right pathways for making progress around the globe in health, education and economic development.” With such reputable and open charity data as we are fortunate to have in Canada, we too can forge ahead with creating change in and for the philanthropic sector.

Partner and Hub Contributions:

Highlights for Data Philanthropy Theme:

  • Al Bhanji, former Western Hub Coordinator, in his document “Review of Recent Literature on Data Philanthropy” draws on the recent literature to explain the notion of data philanthropy, its meaning and purpose.
  • Western Digital Corporation and the United Nation partnered to explain how data philanthropy can accelerate action in climate change. Their summary can be found in this YouTube video.

Highlights for Philanthropy and Data Theme: