Philanthropic funding data methodology

Data sources

To develop the most comprehensive database of philanthropic funds between 2010-2016, CEA gathered grant-level funding data from three sources:

  1. Direct outreach to foundation staff of top 40 marine foundations
  2. Foundation Center’s initiative
  3. IRS Form 990 tax documents and foundation websites


Several steps were completed to ensure that data were comprehensive, non-duplicative and appropriately categorized by geography and topic. New data from 2015-2016 were used to supplement CEA’s existing funding database (prepared for the first version of “Our Shared Seas”) which covered full year 2010 to partial year 2015. Whereas the baseline database contained information primarily from U.S.-based foundations, 2010-2016 data were added from several new, non-U.S. foundations through direct outreach to known marine funders headquartered outside the United States.

For consistency with CEA’s existing database and to use the highest quality data, grantmaking commitments are used. For commitments larger than USD 10 million, grants were annualized over the life span of the commitment (i.e., a USD 30 million commitment lasting five years was broken into five grants of USD 6 million per year). Unlike the first iteration of the funding database for “Our Shared Seas”, no data on disbursements were used.

Because data were compiled from multiple data sources, CEA identified and removed duplicates through both automated and manual processes. During duplication removal, the most specific and comprehensive records were maintained. Where appropriate, grants obtained through direct outreach to foundation staff were retained, replacing grants received from the Foundation Center or other sources.

Grants were categorized initially using a keyword search and then subsequently reviewed manually by CEA using expert judgement with regards to geography and topic. The aggregate number of Foundation Center grants with commitment amounts of USD 10,000 or less were consolidated into a single entry and were not categorized at the grant level. In cases where grants pertained to multiple geographies or topics, reviewers divided the grant amounts proportionally. Where there was insufficient detail to categorize a given grant, an “unspecified” category was used for one or both taxonomies. During this manual review of data, additional duplicate grants were removed by reviewers.

After a manual review of grants, a final validation review was completed. Gaps in funding were identified based on CEA’s understanding of the funding landscape and were filled. CEA’s understanding of foundations’ and recipients’ program areas was additionally used to validate categorization of grants; geographies and topics were standardized across program areas and years to remain consistent.