SMU DataArts - Cultural Data Profile


Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation

  • Posted Dec 15, 2016

About The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation

The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation (GDDF) supports land conservation, artistic vitality, and regional collections for the people of the Chicago region and the Lowcountry of South Carolina. GDDF supports over 160 small, professional arts organizations of all disciplines in Chicago by providing general operations grants and an array of other kinds of support to help its arts partners sustain their artistry and strengthen their operations. (CDP is required only in Chicago.)

The Challenge

As part of its ongoing grantmaking, GDDF uses data to understand how small arts organizations are faring year-to-year. “Annually we look at the pool of GDDF grantees to see whether the past year was easier or harder than the year before based on the median surplus or deficit. We also look at whether groups produced more or fewer shows than the year before. Did their ticket prices go up or down?” said Ellen Wadey. To get this snapshot, GDDF applicants complete the Cultural Data Profile and Wadey uses DataArts Comparison Reports. “We want to use good data in our practice, which is a principle we preach to our grantees.”

“DataArts reports affirmed that our Gen Ops Plus grantees were doing well in comparison to the total pool of Chicago’s small arts groups.” Wadey also used these insights to compare Chicago Gen Ops Plus grantees to other markets. “We want to know what is happening, what is changing, and what is informing those changes, so we can assess whether these changes have relevance to our grantmaking.”

How DataArts Affects Grantmaking

DataArts customized GDDF’s Funder Report at Wadey’s request to include a calculation of three months of operating costs for each organization so that they could easily see how much of a safety net organizations did or did not have. They found that the amount of readily accessible cash was thin for many organizations, which ultimately contributed to GDDF’s decision to launch a cash reserve challenge grant program. “Data from the CDP allows us to better understand the impact of our grantmaking and helps us make decisions about new grant programs that best serve our grantees.”

DataArts, in a Word 

Fundamental. When arts nonprofits are financially sound and have a solid understanding of their financial position, they can better withstand economic challenges. GDDF believes that arts organizations with strong management capacity have the confidence to make the best artistic choices, and our hope is to help our grantees use the CDP to become stronger so that they can make the best art possible.”

Read more about how GDDF uses data for decisionmaking

Download the case study