A Funder’s Demographic Data Journey

  • By Jenny Chheang, October 5, 2023

In the spirit of working toward more equitable access to philanthropic resources, funders increasingly request demographic data from nonprofits to understand better who they are – and are not – supporting. Because there is currently no centralized source of comprehensive and public demographic data available, nonprofits shoulder the often-heavy burden of providing this information to funders in various ways and formats.

The California Endowment signed on to the Demographics via Candid initiative to alleviate this burden. This initiative enables nonprofits to share their demographic data one time on their Candid profile, where it can be accessed and reviewed by all. Through this initiative, and with the consent of non-profit participants, Candid provides this nonprofit demographic data in an open and transparent way for all users.

Jennifer Chheang, Managing Director, Grantmaking Effectiveness, sat down with us to talk about how and why The California Endowment is participating in Demographics via Candid to fulfill its mission to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities and to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians.

1. How does The California Endowment collect demographic data and how do you use it to inform your work and priorities?

First, it is important to understand that we see racial equity and justice as inextricably linked to health. The interconnection between race and health was made clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, where significant disparities in health primarily experienced by historically marginalized and disinvested Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color (“BIPOC) were laid bare. Second, we recognize that our own formation and organizational structure, borrowed from the world of corporate finance, has the practical effect at times of excluding or creating barriers to learning about, engaging, or supporting groups or organizations in the communities in which we work. Therefore, we refined our proposal to add a distinct question on the race/ethnicity of the leader with the ultimate authority to decide on an organization’s mission, strategy, and resources.

Is your organization a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color)-Led Organization, as follows?

  • Top-level leader or a co-leader is BIPoC? What is the top leader/co-leader’s self-identified race or ethnic group(s)?
  • Board composition is majority BIPoC?
  • Staff composition is majority BIPoC?
  • Mission statement and charitable program aim to predominantly benefit, support, or build the power of BIPoC communities?

We are very clear with our staff that this demographic data will never be used to make funding decisions. Rather, we maintain this demographic information in the aggregate and use it to identify trends in our grantmaking. For example, we review the rate at which BIPOC-led organizations receive general operating support grants and multi-year grants in relation to their white-led peers because, historically, these organizations have received a lower percentage of GOS and multi-year grants. We also identify other areas of potential inequities by looking at other indicators such as financial health, budget size, and liquid unrestricted net assets (LUNA). By using our own data to make ourselves aware of these potential inequities, we examine our own systems and practices for improvement and track our progress over time.

2. How have you supported your nonprofit partners in collecting and sharing their demographic information?

The Endowment has collaborated with several California foundations for the past two years to encourage our grantees to collect and share demographic data. This included an educational series regarding why demographic data matters and how to collect and use this data. We are in a concerted push to encourage our grantees (many of whom are shared across our three foundations) to enter their demographic data into Candid. We are piloting this approach to inform funders in other parts of the country. TCE financially supports Candid in their outreach, communication, and capacity building with nonprofits around demographic data collection. TCE is also participating in a funder equity data workgroup that is defining sector-wide equity data definitions.

3. What has been challenging for you in terms of collecting demographic data?

We previously did not require prospective grantees to complete demographic data questions as part of our proposal process, which led to many “no data” responses and incomplete data. We still do not require prospective grantees to disclose demographic data –disclosure remains voluntary - but we do require them all to at least submit responses to our questions, with clear “decline to state” options if they do not wish to disclose, which has led to better data collection overall.

We continue to educate our leadership and board about the information gathered and how to accurately describe the demographic makeup of our grantees’ leadership based on this data, especially because a number of respondents identify as bi-racial or multi-racial.

We have also encountered challenges in clearly communicating the purposes and uses of this data to grantees and others. We continue to learn about the wide range of nonprofit capacity related to collecting and updating their data on a regular basis. And certain types of organizations, for example, those using fiscal sponsors or housed at universities, are particularly complex when it comes to collecting this type of data.

4. Have you seen any preliminary benefits, impacts, results, anecdotes, etc. from the nonprofit partners and communities you serve and support as a result?

To date, the largest benefit has been to encourage a deeper understanding and more meaningful conversations about our own data and to realize that we could do more to support new and emerging organizations, many of which are BIPOC-led. For example, between FY22 and FY23, we made a concerted effort to increase GOS to all organizations, including those that are BIPOC-led. As a result, we saw a 61% increase in GOS grants to BIPOC-led organizations and a 279% increase in the awarded amount of GOS to these organizations. Just having and sharing better data on these measures allowed us to identify our own barriers and has led to more intentional conversations and better results.

5. Has the recent SCOTUS decision on affirmative action affected how you think about your processes in any way?

As mentioned previously, our aspirational goals and our commitment to racial equity, which we express through our data gathering, public programming, communication, and grant-making are activities that are necessary to our mission of improving the health of all Californians. With regard to the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action in higher education admissions and federally funded programs, we endeavor to continue educating ourselves and examining our programs to ensure we are complying with the law and continuing to support our grantees as the law evolves. We remain steadfast in our commitment to racial equity and are committed to collecting the data and information we need to understand the nonprofit sector in California and how we can best support it.

Learn more about how The California Endowment is collecting and analyzing demographic data to support strategic decision-making and how you can join Demographics via Candid to support more efficient grantmaking during our upcoming webinar on October 10, Measurement to Move from Intention to Practice. We hope you will register and join the conversation.

Jenny Chheang

Managing Director, Grantmaking Effectiveness

Jennifer Chheang is the Managing Director, Grantmaking Effectiveness at the California Endowment. In this role, she is responsible for strategy development and special projects to further the Foundation’s strategic impact in alignment with its organizational values. She also manages TCE’s Grants Operations department. Prior to this role, Jennifer led the Endowment’s statewide policy and communications strategy to promote health and racial equity in schools and to interrupt the school to prison pipeline. She simultaneously led the development of TCE’s $2 billion strategic plan governing the organization’s work from 2020-2030.

Jennifer served for six years as the Senior Program Manager for Long Beach under the Endowment’s 10-year strategic plan Building Healthy Communities. In this position, she oversaw TCE’s strategy development and grantmaking in Long Beach with a goal of addressing health inequities in the city.

Prior to her appointment as a Program Manager at TCE, Jennifer served for nearly six years as a Senior Program Officer in the Planning, Development and Policy Department of First 5 LA. In this capacity, she led staff in the development of First 5 LA’s $900 million strategic plan.

A Long Beach native, Jennifer began her career as a grant writer and director of Program Development for the Cambodian Association of America. In her nearly six years with the organization, Chheang raised more than $8 million. She earned her B.A. in Political Science and History from Wheaton College and her M.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California.