Research Update: Highlights from Recent Reports in the Field

By Stephen Sherman

SECF’s online Research Library is regularly updated with the latest reports relevant to Southern philanthropy. SECF members can browse over 400 research reports, websites, case studies, and other resources that we’ve cultivated to help funders stay abreast of trends in the field and learn about emerging best practices in philanthropy. 

Below are some of the key findings and highlights of the newest additions to the Research Library. If you would like to suggest a resource or have other feedback, contact Stephen Sherman, SECF’s Director of Research and Data, at or (404) 524-0911.


Moving from Intention to Impact: Funding Racial Equity to Win
PolicyLink, The Bridgespan Group (2021)

In the wake of unprecedented philanthropic commitments in 2020, PolicyLink partnered with the Bridgespan Group to analyze the state of funding for racial equity with a focus on high-level donors  – both institutional funders and individual donors. The report was informed by interviews with more than 34 racial equity movement leaders, funders, and others across the equity ecosystem; analyses of Candid data to identify funding trends; and a review of literature to understand what is needed to achieve equitable structural change. The authors discuss what was learned about funders’ intention to contribute toward racial equity, explore what it will take to achieve enduring impact, and offer specific ways that funders can work to close the gap between intention and impact. Recommendations for foundations include increased funding for racial equity, greater support for capacity building and relationship building in the field, and re-evaluating internal practices and investments. 


Everyday Donors of Color: Diverse Philanthropy During Times of Change
IUPUI Lilly Family School of Philanthropy (2021)

Given the changing demographics of the U.S. population, it is important for philanthropic professionals to better understand the motivations and giving habits of donors of color. This report examines the ways that diverse populations participate in philanthropy, including their giving preferences, methods of giving, and the state of giving for racial and social justice causes. The study found that key motivating factors in giving by donors of color include faith, a belief in philanthropy as a self-help tool, feelings of reciprocity, and an interest in “leveling the playing field” for future generations. In terms of donee organizations, donors of color showed a preference for religious organizations, universities and educational institutions, civil rights and arts nonprofits, and identity-based financial institutions. Donors of color also demonstrated a tendency to give through small groups such as giving circles and often relied on personal connections to vet organizations.


Trust in Civil Society: Understanding the Factors Driving Trust in Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Independent Sector (2021)

Independent Sector, in partnership with Edelman Data & Intelligence, conducted two national surveys, reaching a total of 8,000 American adults, to assess the general population’s trust in the sector – philanthropy and nonprofits – and uncover the factors that drive trust. This second annual Trust in Civil Society report finds that trust in institutions continues to decline, and nonprofits are not immune to this trend. While trust in nonprofits held steady over the past year, trust in philanthropy fell substantially. Scandals, financial impropriety, and political bias were all cited as causes of mistrust in philanthropy. Levels of trust were shown to be closely associated with educational attainment, income level, political affiliation, age, and geographic location. Civic engagement was also seen to reinforce trust in the sector. The authors conclude by offering key questions for nonprofit and philanthropic leaders to consider in determining future steps to maintain and rebuild trust in the sector.


What's Next for Philanthropy in the 2020s: Seeing Philanthropy in a New Light
Monitor Institute (2021)

The Monitor Institute conducted interviews in 2020 with more than 200 philanthropy executives, practitioners, donors, board members, experts, and grantees. Based on these interviews as well as an in-depth scan of research in the field, the authors identify seven "big shifts" that have the potential to fundamentally change philanthropy: rising economic inequality, extreme political polarization, shifting demographics, new momentum around racial justice, technological advances, a state of climate and social emergency, and the social compact in flux. The report explores how these critical shifts may impact the future of philanthropic practice through four lenses: rethinking philanthropy's role, balancing power dynamics, leverage philanthropy's assets for greater impact, and redesigning the structures through which philanthropic capital flows. Accompanying the report is a toolkit with discussion starters and other supplemental materials for donors and philanthropic boards and staff.


The Index Explosion: A Curated Collection of Social Sector Indexes, Rankings, and Measures to Inform Grantmaking in the United States
PhilanthropywoRx, Sillerman Center at Brandeis University (2021)

This publication is intended to assist the philanthropic community in selecting and using the large and growing collection of publicly available indexes and rankings that measure a variety of social conditions and challenges that concern funders in the United States. Through interviews and field research, the authors identified more than 75 national rankings and indexes and assessed these for their relevance and prominence in the philanthropic sector to develop a catalog of those most useful in guiding grantmaking decisions. This report lists 42 rankings and indexes divided into nine major categories. Each listing includes a brief description and a list of indicators that inform the index or ranking.

Stephen Sherman is SECF's Director of Research & Data.


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