About Fran Perrin
Fran Perrin is the Founder and Director of The Indigo Trust, part of The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts (SFCT). SFCT is the operating office of 18 grant-making trusts established by three generations of the Sainsbury family. The trusts’ donations to charitable causes over several decades represent one of the leading examples of sustained philanthropy in Britain.
Fran was formerly an advisor in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit in the UK Government for both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. She is Cofounder and Chair of 360 Giving, a campaign which supports grantmakers to publish their grants data openly, to understand their data, and to use the data to create online tools that make grant-making more effective.
She is an alumna of the University of Cambridge with a Bachelors degree in politics and sociology and a Masters Degree in Criminology.
Chair of 360Giving and member of the Sainsbury family, Fran Perrin, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss the importance of data-sharing and transparency in the world of philanthropy.
Fran explains how working on 360Giving has been an absolute joy and a bit of a roller coaster. It came out of her experience both as a philanthropist, starting off at quite a young age, and from her experience as a technology nerd. She is a massive video game fan and has always been fascinated by the Internet and the potential for knowledge to change lives.
In her earlier career, she worked as a civil servant in the UK government and was in the Prime Minister's strategy unit under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown. Back in 2007, she was lucky to be put on a project reviewing the power of information and how the government can use information and data.
This hugely inspired her and got her thinking about future trends in data and where that could be used for public services and public good; not just for commercial ventures.
She set up her foundation when she was just 18 and at that time she knew very little about how to give well and what other donors were doing. So, she wanted to learn from other donors but it was clear that there wasn’t much data readily available on what others were doing in the world of philanthropy.
There was no good reason for this lack of data -- there was no technical problem, it's not a complicated type of data regarding who has given what money to whom. So, Fran decided to give this idea of getting foundations and philanthropists to share information a try. Interestingly, it wasn't a core part of her strategy as a philanthropist at the time.
She had always had a sort of 90/10 Rule, which was: 90% should be focused on clearly strategic grants, while 10% should be around the more emotional, reactive and experimental work. Because, as she notes, if you exclude the possibility of just trying something non-strategic you often miss the passion and the fun that can come through philanthropy.
When asked whether some philanthropists and/or foundations are sometimes a bit timid about sharing their data, perhaps for fear of being put under the spotlight or of being ridiculed, she notes that things can be complex.
There is a complex set of reasons of why some do share information while others do not. It's very different for different donors. She initially was reticent about being public about her own giving. The fact that she had inherited her money; the fact that the press in the UK don’t always view the philanthropy sector in a positive light – these things made her nervous.
Fran also remarks that a lot of donors don't realise that being transparent or open is a good thing to do and that it would be of interest to others. In actual fact, being open with your data is one of the most powerful ways to help charities.
Fran was keen from the start to make things simple and accessible to foundations of all sizes. If you go to the 360Giving website you will see loads of guidance with everything that you need to do in order to publish your data.
What 360Giving asks is simply for foundations put their internal grant-making figures (figures they’d need for their financial reporting anyway) in a standardised format – the 360Giving Standard – and then to publish this data online. It can be published on a foundation’s own website and the foundation can then simply send 360Giving a link to that information.
So, 360Giving is not so much a platform as opposed to a registry that draws together all those different sources of data and allows people to search them in one place. Even the tiniest foundation just needs to change a few column headings, re-engineer the data and be willing to put it online with an open licence.
Many foundations are great at publishing annual reports and have lots of facts and figures and case studies. Which is wonderful. But if you're a charity, an academic, or a donor you don't have time to print off hundreds of annual reports to read through. No one has that time and we are wasting time as a sector doing that. However, just by changing the format of data it makes it possible to search it and that is the magic of open data and the Internet – we can make it so much easier for anyone to find information.
Fran explains that when she was trying to learn about how best to do her own philanthropy she was lucky to come across ‘The Philanthropy Workshop’, which was very helpful for her. She found out that actually there is a way to do philanthropy well; there are skills one can learn; and there is a community of learners that are all asking similar questions. Aspiring philanthropists can benefit by identifying their peers in the space they’re interested in and also by gaining the skills required to be good at grant-making.
Currently, 360Giving have 115 different foundations in the UK publishing their data fully. Fran explains how the data provided is simple and useful. They’re looking for the absolute simplest data. (i.e. this foundation gave this amount, to this charity, on this date, in this geographic location – all accompanied by a text description of the grant in question) They’re not making any judgement or data statement; there are no averages, no trends, it is just the basic facts, which can be immensely useful.
Fran hopes that in the next 10 years, they will have really made some measurable change in increasing opportunities for donors to improve their work; to learn from others; to work with others.
The key takeaway Fran offers at the end of the episode is particularly for donors, philanthropists and foundation staff. If we value the role of philanthropy in a modern society we have to be willing to open up and work to constantly improve our practice. She celebrates philanthropy and notes that it’s not always perfect. We make loads of mistakes but, overall, she thinks it’s a force for good in the world. She wants more people to give, and to give more, but she also wants to constantly ask what does it mean to give well. And, if there isn’t going to be real external accountability and levers for change, then we have to do that ourselves; we have to scrutinise each other, encourage each other, and then hopefully society can judge that what we’re doing is worth continuing.
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