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Why research matters in philanthropy

a person conducting research on a computer

By Abby Rolland

Several weeks ago, harp-weaver LLC staff listened to a panel discussion about gun violence in Philadelphia schools. Hosted by the Stoneleigh Foundation, the panel first focused on research conducted by Stoneleigh Fellow Dr. Brandy Blasko, and then featured a number of expert voices discussing Dr. Blasko’s findings and working on-the-ground in Philadelphia to address this pervasive and destructive issue.

The panel discussion reminded us of the importance of why research matters in informing the work of philanthropy. Applied research imparts critical information about the work that philanthropy supports e.g., gun violence, the arts, and education. Funders can utilize that research to inform their grantmaking and how they contribute i.e., whether they would like to fund pilot programs, support established organizations/programs, and/or fund gaps in services. harp-weaver partners with organizations who provide support in each of those ways.

In addition to independent researchers like Dr. Blasko and the other Stoneleigh Fellows, there are also a number of organizations that support research that informs philanthropy. Housed the University of Pennsylvania, The Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) produces research that is then disseminated widely to funders (both individual and institutional) to inform their giving. One of those research tools - CHIP’s High Impact Giving Guide – was written about and discussed on harp-weaver’s blog in both 2022 and 2023.

Another source for evidence-based research that harp-weaver turns to is the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. Several foundations that harp-weaver advises and manages support the arts. The Cultural Alliance’s CultureCheck report informed engagement efforts by The Presser Foundation to City Council. The Cultural Alliance also conducts other important research about the arts and culture subsector and shares it with interested funders and stakeholders.

We believe that research is critical to catalyzing change. Dr. Blasko’s research is informing Philadelphia decision-makers, in both the private and public sectors, about gun violence in schools. In their recent report and relevant webinar, the Cultural Alliance explained that data + stories = proof. Economic impact numbers provide evidence for private, corporate, and government funders to support arts and culture organizations that provide clear demonstration of social and economic impact.

By conducting research, sharing it with funders, practitioners, and decision-makers, we not only work toward a better sector, but a better community and world. 


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