Guest blog: A unique challenge for the charitable sector
Funders use all kinds of ways to identify the charities they fund, but this lack of uniformity blurs the bigger picture of grantmaking in the UK. Here Mor Rubinstein of 360Giving, the charity opening up UK grantmaking data, explains the importance of ‘unique identifiers’ and why funders might want to adopt them to improve the quality and value of the data they capture.
I am Mor Rubinstein. My friends know my name, and I reply to it. But sometimes they misspell it. (I have been called ‘More’ more than once, or Rubinshtein.) That doesn’t matter generally. For the state, however, this is more problematic. There might be more than one Mor Rubinstein in Israel where I am from; I actually know another Mor Rubinstein, a guy who used to be in the same army unit with me.
So how can the state know who I am? In the case of Israel, I get a unique identifier, an ID number, which the state uses to identify me. It is unique to me and made up by a formula that includes the hospital I was born in and my date of birth.
There are other numbers associated with me. In the case of the army, I also get a ‘private number’, which the Israeli Defence Force uses to identify me and goes with me everywhere. I also have a passport number, but that number changes every time I replace my passport.
My ID number is a primary identifier. One agency in Israel issues it, and it is unique and irreplaceable.
It is also private and using it without my permission is identity theft. My army number is a secondary identifier since an agency provided it. Also, not every citizen will have an army number, since they are not all in the military. My passport number is a part of a registry and is temporal since it will change when I get a new passport.
In the UK, there is no ID number, but there is a passport number, an NHS number and an NI number and different countries will have different numerical (or hexadecimal) identifiers.
The same logic that applies to humans applies to organisations.
But there is not so much uniformity for charitable organisations and this causes problems when trying to identify them, which we need to do when trying to understand which organisations receive funding so we can build the bigger picture of UK grantmaking.
In the UK, each registered charity gets a unique number issued by the charity regulator in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (or even the British territories).
Many charities are also registered companies, and so also have a Companies House number; but in practice, we know that this information isn’t always recorded in a funder’s dataset. If the organisation is an NGO, they may not have a charity number, only a Companies House number. Sometimes, a funder will use just the charity’s name as it may not be registered with the Charity Commission and therefore it will not have a numerical identifier. Indeed some charities, such as churches, don't have to register as a charity in England and Wales.
The 360Giving Standard encourages organisations to give each entity it funds a unique identifier. If the company number is known, we suggest using it. If there is a charity number then that can be utilised too. If no such number exists, we recommend creating a unique identifier based on the grantee’s name.
Why do we need to give an identifier? One of the primary purposes of 360Giving is to answer the question of WHO gets the money. That can help us know WHERE the money is. So we need to identify entities carefully and give them a unique identifier. This will help us to build a clearer and more accurate picture of the funding landscape and to be able to analyse the data.
Unique identifiers also improve diligence and allow us to monitor who is receiving funding.
Grant making data is a hugely valuable asset and currently under-rated. It will allow the sector to underpin grant making with hard evidence as we go forward so we can make better decisions. That is why we are asking funders to pay close attention to how they capture data and to adopt the practice of using unique identifiers. It is good data, not just more data, that will help us to sharpen the focus on the big picture of UK grant making which will benefit us all.
Data Labs & Learning Manager