How Foundations Make Data-Driven Decisions … And Expect the Same of You

In a recent interview, Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellman, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, discussed how data-driven decisions guide the foundation’s activities around the world. “In every way, data drives how we take action,” she told Bloomberg’s Emily Chang from the Geekwire Summit in Seattle.

Every year, the Gates Foundation spends billions of dollars across the globe tackling difficult issues like child mortality, infectious disease, access to education and more. According to Desmond-Hellman, the foundation looks at the data before choosing where and when to offer those resources. She used the foundation’s fight to reduce the global burden of disease as an example.

“We invest in HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, pneumonia and diarrheal diseases because they are the top five killers of people who live in low-resource areas,” she said. “So that’s completely a data-driven decision.”

The same is true on the domestic side, she added. The Gates Foundation uses data for insights about economic mobility in the United States. For example, the foundation uses research by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty to understand neighborhood census zones.

What neighborhoods “are filled with opportunity, where people can have the American dream,” she said. “And, just as importantly, what areas are low opportunity.”

The Gates Foundation is not the only one taking a data-driven decisions approach to their philanthropy. More than ever, technology connects foundations to worthy causes with research, impact statements and fact checks just a click away. Great fundraisers will see this as an opportunity.

Remember the Gates Foundation using research from Harvard? The technology also exists to alert Harvard that the Gates Foundation is interested in Dr. Chetty’s research — empowering the institution to prioritize the project/relationship and make the connection.

Exciting on its own but a fully funded project is often the result of multiple foundations. Institutions of all sizes, types and locations are using technology to answer the question asked internally and in foundation boardrooms across the country, “which foundations/individuals/companies are interested in this project?”

The right answer has funded amazing projects and built careers in the industry.  Something to consider before sitting in front of the university president, hometown foundation of — if you get the alert — the Gates Foundation!

By Kevin Bauman, Director of Philanthropic Initiatives, Capture Higher Ed