With the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data, there is now more data than ever to be utilized in the decision-making process. This raises an important question: How should private foundations and other funders leverage their data and data analytics techniques in this dynamic philanthropic landscape to better understand their investing and grantmaking activities and increase their impact?


Understanding an organization’s data and associated key performance indicators (KPIs) is critical to efficient and effective operations. This understanding can help an organization create a lasting impact in the communities they serve.

Many private foundations and other funders already recognize the value of the data behind their giving. But there are trends, patterns and insights that may not naturally occur in this data. For example, an organization may want to further its reach in trust-based philanthropy by giving more general operating support grants. If grant history reveals that the organization is primarily giving restricted project grants, it may be time to reassess the organization’s strategic plan to better align with this goal.

This is where data analytics comes in to unlock these key insights. Identifying trends and patterns in data can help a private foundation optimize its grantmaking operations and ensure it is on track with its mission.

Utilization of data analytics in private foundations and other funders can assist in the following:

  • Grantmaking Activities: Leveraging grantmaking data can assist both program-related staff and the governing board in the determination of grants to ensure that the grants being made are aligned with the organization’s mission and giving budget. Data analytics can be harnessed to track current grantmaking KPIs:
    • The types and amounts of grants given in a time period (year, quarter, month, etc.) compared to prior years or other timeframes can reveal historical giving trends.
    • The number of grants awarded by location or DEIA metrics of grant recipients could be used to assess the impact on the target community and identify any gaps in giving.
    • The volume of grants given over a specified amount of time can be used to assess the burden on programmatic staff.
    • The automation of due diligence for most, if not all, of the financial metrics can streamline processes and reduce a strain on labor.
  • Operations: Data analytics can also be harnessed to track current operational KPIs:
    • Tracking investment performance and returns and benchmarking the composition of the investment portfolio against other peer foundations and funders.
    • Tracking operational expenses over time to identify any outliers.
    • Assessing workflows to identify any bottlenecks that could be made more efficient through automation, resulting in time savings for staff to better allocate their time at the organization.


Private foundations can leverage tools such as Microsoft PowerBI to create powerful visualizations of the data to present dashboards on financial and operational performance. This is immensely amplified when paired with proper data governance and a strong grants management software. As the organization continues on its data analytics journey, other options such as machine learning and AI may be leveraged to run predictive models for grant analysis and inform the next need for funding in the organization’s strategic plan.

Platforms such as UpMetrics or Charity Navigator’s Impact and Results section can gather information to combine with the organization’s data to ensure philanthropic successes occur based on the investment of the grant. Private foundations can continue to measure impact through a variety of methods, such as setting outcome and output measures, longitudinal studies, and surveys, which can be further analyzed through data analytics and presented in an easily digestible and transparent format. A retrospective review of grants can further inform the next grant cycle or strategic plan.

The integration of data analytics and data visualization into the grantmaking and operation processes should be embraced as grantmaking entities look to further their impact while also running the organization as efficiently as possible. Leveraging data analytics unlocks new ways of looking at the organization through a data-driven lens, which drives value to the board, management and the communities served. Consider what underlying insights that could be uncovered through data analytics at your organization.

To learn more about how data analytics and data visualization tools can be implemented to help your private foundation achieve its goals, please reach out to GHJ’s Data Analytics Services Practice or Private Foundation Practice.

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Colin Nierenberg

Colin Nierenberg, CPA, has seven years of public accounting experience providing external and internal audit services to clients primarily in manufacturing and distribution in the for-profit sector and private foundations in the nonprofit sector. Colin provides clients with audit and consulting…Learn More