Website Aims to Offer Trustworthy Data on Mexico’s Civil Sector

Hispanics are known for their generosity, but in Mexico that has not translated into a large, vibrant nonprofit sector. Sixty percent of Mexicans would rather give directly to a needy individual, and only 16 percent prefer to donate to nonprofits, placing organizations at an acute disadvantage. Why is that? What can we do about it? What drives giving in Mexico is trust: If you trust an old person begging on the street to use your five pesos for food, then you will hand that person a coin; if you trust an organization to deliver effective services, then it becomes the object of your generosity. As an academic, I was fascinated by these results from our groundbreaking public opinion survey, the “Encuesta Nacional Sobre Filantropía y Sociedad Civil” (ENAFI). But, as a passionate advocate for civil society, I was dismayed by these numbers and felt compelled to take action. The goal became the creation of a vehicle that would enhance nonprofit transparency and thereby fortify trust.

The Partnership

We formed a partnership between my research program, The Philanthropy and Civil Society Project  at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) university, and Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C., a leading Mexican research, training and advocacy organization. We developed the idea for an online, searchable database that would lend increased transparency to the nonprofit sector in Mexico, especially the largest philanthropic donor institutions. We were soon joined by the Border Philanthropy Partnership, a binational organization, and the Foundation Center, the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.  Rounding out the effort, we received invaluable in-kind support from Microsoft, and a binational consortium of generous funders, including: Fundación Adolfo Harp Helú, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Fundación del Empresariado Mexicano (FUNDEMEX), U.S.-Mexico Foundation, Fundación Rosario Campos de Fernández, and Montepío Luz Saviñón. We felt a consortium of funders was critical to generating positive momentum and a bandwagon effect, whereby more organizations would participate in the effort.

The Database

The initiative took as its starting point two public registries provided by Mexico’s federal government. With cooperation from the Tax Administration Service (SAT) and the National Institute for Social Development (INDESOL), and hundreds of hours invested by ITAM students in cleaning and preparing the data, we created the database. With help from the Foundation Center and Microsoft, we created a user-friendly search engine, and an attractive website: Fondos a la Vista was born. Translated as Funds in Plain Sight, (or more colloquially as “Show me the Money!”), this online resource provides reliable, comprehensive information about Mexican donors, including the organizations that they support. This represents a great leap forward in terms of accessibility and user friendliness. Never before has such data been available to organizations looking for partners or funders, and to the public seeking to understand the finances of the nonprofit sector. The service came online January 30, 2013. This new searchable database contains data on more than 22,000 Mexican nonprofits. It provides users access to the financial data of funders and nonprofits. It aims to facilitate fundraising, increase trust and  empower and strengthen Mexico’s growing social sector by serving as a mechanism for accountability and transparency of its organizations. The challenge of launching a website begins with getting the word out to potential users and demonstrating the value of the service. The team has made a tireless effort to do workshops and outreach to the civil sector. In addition to the multi-year financial data in Fondos a la Vista, funder profiles provide information on each organization’s purpose, areas of support, target population, and grant recipients. Users can perform detailed queries, compile aggregated results lists, and save and export search results.

Serving Funders and Nonprofits

If you are interested in philanthropy and civil society in Mexico, Fondos a la Vista is a priceless resource. If you are a funder looking for opportunities to find organizations on the ground in Mexico, you can now identify possible grant recipients based on their activities, population served, and geographic location. If you are hoping to identify Mexican donors, with a few key strokes you can identify independent, corporate, or community foundations who share your thematic or geographic areas of interest. One of the major advantages of Fondos a la Vista is that it uses the already familiar terminology of the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE), the classification standard used across the United States and by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

The Impact for Mexico

Our hope is that this platform will provide a means for both donors and organizations to be more transparent and more visible, not only in Mexico but around the world. “In the long term, we hope Fondos a la Vista will play an important role in ushering in an era of enhanced accountability between the nonprofit sector and the general public in Mexico,”  said  Miguel Ángel de la Vega, executive director of Alternativas y Capacidades. “We expect that organizations will seek to strengthen the mechanisms they employ to ensure that, financially and programmatically, they are using their resources in a manner that fulfills their mission and improves Mexico.”   _____________________________________________________________________ Michael D. Layton, Ph.D., is the director of the Philanthropy and Civil Society Project at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de Mexico, where he also works as associate professor of international relations. His email in Mexico City is