15 February 2024

Data science, AI and data philanthropy in foundations – on the path to maturity

At a moment when the resources available to any single institution are so limited in relation to our most pressing and complex social and environmental challenges, we need data to make the best use of philanthropic resources, allocate them more efficiently, and make informed choices about where to invest for the greatest impact.

The importance of data in the philanthropic ecosystem cannot be overstated. Data empowers us to understand with greater clarity the complex challenges we seek to address. It helps us identify patterns, track progress and evaluate the effectiveness of our initiatives. Such evidence-based philanthropy ensures that our actions are based on rigorous research, evaluation and learning.

In addition to the growing recognition of the potential strategic use of data, the public expectations for philanthropic organisations to become more transparent and accountable require foundations to embrace data-driven processes.

To shed light on the evolving philanthropic landscape and the role that data has within it, we are delighted to introduce this research which emerged from a dynamic collaboration between Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo (FCSP) and Philea. This partnership allowed for the synthesis of different strengths and sets of knowledge, which produced a piece of research that incorporates both perspectives: that of a leading foundation in the field of data and the wider ecosystem level, and that of a European-level philanthropy infrastructure organisation with a bird’s-eye view of the sector, and a mission of nurturing, supporting and observing philanthropy in Europe.

In 2021 Philea launched the Data Science Group which regularly brings together data scientists and enthusiasts working within the philanthropic sector to discuss various topics under the overarching theme of “using data for social good”. It also serves as a space for professionals to learn from peers and share practices. Around the same time as the launch of the group, FCSP embarked on an intensive journey with the ambitious goal of transforming into a data-driven foundation. One of the key pillars of this transformation has been a close collaboration with Philea aimed at promoting data usage as a key best practice for foundations. What you are about to read is a key outcome of our two organisations’ shared mandate to support data-driven transformation in philanthropy.

This comprehensive study examines the degree to which philanthropic foundations are adopting data and technology to enhance their impact. It explores the strategies, practices and challenges that foundations face in unlocking the full potential of data.

This research is not only timely but also critically important. It will provide valuable insights into how, and if, philanthropic foundations are adapting to the digital age and leveraging data as a strategic asset. By understanding where foundations stand in terms of data maturity, we can identify best practices, areas for improvement and opportunities for collaboration within the philanthropic sector. We are confident that the findings of this study will inform and inspire philanthropic leaders, donors and stakeholders to continue on the path of data-driven philanthropy. It is our hope that this research will spawn meaningful discussions and actions that propel the philanthropic sector towards greater effectiveness, transparency and innovation.

To conclude, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to all those who have contributed to this research project and to the broader philanthropic community.

Embracing data-driven philanthropy is not optional: It is of strategic importance to enhance the sector’s impact. There is still a lot to be done, but we are on the right track.

Find out more on data-driven philanthropy with Philea and Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo’s new publication “Data Science, AI and Data Philanthropy in Foundations: On the Path to Maturity


Alberto Anfossi
Secretary General, Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo
Delphine Moralis
Chief Executive Officer, Philea