News from the Field

A date with media grants data featuring Sarah Lutman

Editor’s note: We invited Sarah Lutman to take our new data tool, Foundation Maps for Media Funding, for a test ride to see how it could support her work in the arts and culture fields. Sarah founded Lutman & Associates in 2012 and has worked on a wide variety of projects both independently and with clients in cultural, public media, and philanthropic organizations. She wrote Molto+Media: Digital Culture Funding for us in December 2013.

By Sarah Lutman | Founder, Lutman & Associates

Just as you’d expect from an organization called Media Impact Funders, the new online data map that MIF launched in June in collaboration with the Foundation Center has really useful features.

Would that all of philanthropy’s affinity groups made the grants research process so easy, so transparent, and also free.

The most notable feature? Figuring out what a grantmaker is funding today vs. two years ago (previously a constant source of head scratching). Often, researchers have to plow through two- and three-year-old data looking for funding prospects, or resort to reviewing grants information press-release-by-press-release because databases are not updated with the most recent funding information.

Within the new Foundation Maps for Media Funding, 68 U.S. grantmakers already show updated listings with 2016 data and for 2015, nearly 1,500 grantmakers’ data is already online. (Grantmakers are encouraged to update their own data and keep things current by e-reporting.)

Also great: The tool is intuitive to use. I took it out for a spin to see how well it could answer some of the recent research questions that have emerged from one or another of my consulting projects. Often I am looking for information about who is funding particular activities, for example, helping foundations identify colleagues with similar funding interests, or helping nonprofits look for examples of successful grant requests.

Who funds podcasting?
The podcast audience is booming and public interest and journalism applications are ever more widespread. The map quickly turned up 543 grantmakers that have awarded $41 million in grants for audio production and distribution since 2009[1]. With an advanced filter I found 24 grantmakers with a history of supporting podcasts and on-demand audio specifically, with grants of $500 to more than $1 million.[2]

Who is funding media in my state?
I was surprised to discover $130 million in media funding to Minnesota organizations since 2009, with $26 million of that total granted since 2014. Less surprising, the map shows Minnesota’s three largest public media nonprofits at the top of the leaderboard: Minnesota Public Radio, Public Radio International, and Twin Cities Public Television. A deeper plunge showed many media grants to key smaller organizations like Asian Media Access; Mizna, the Arab-American cultural organization that annually sponsors the Arab-American Film Festival; Mgizi Communications, with a long-track record of American Indian media projects; and Northern Community Radio, a lively rural public radio station based in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

My geographic search not only proved informative in terms of dollars flowing into the state, but also resulted in a great list of organizations to learn about, in case you’re interested in supporting the region’s media makers.

Are any national foundations interested in my local work?
I tried downloading the 218 foundations listed as providing media grants to Minnesota organizations via CSV file so that I could sort them by geography. This proved to be a little tricky. The download feature is set up to provide only the top ten funders, not the entire 218. One can still review the entire list, foundation-by-foundation, but that requires sorting it yourself, screen-by-screen. It would be a useful to expand the tool’s download capability. Further, one has to search by recipient to find each grant’s purpose. It’s possible to locate this information, but to gather detail and look at themes took some serious putzing.

Thank you, MIF and the Foundation Center for making this enormously helpful database of information available free. With so much grantmaking information available only behind a pay wall, access is less than ideal, particularly for smaller and new organizations that need help demystifying foundation practices. Foundation Maps for Media Funding is a giant step in the right direction toward providing information access for all.

So, while we’re not quite to the point of being able to ask, “Hey, Siri, who funds audio journalism in my region?,” we’re a lot closer today than we’ve been.

[1] Search terms: US, audio, foundations
[2] Search terms: US, podcast, foundations

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