A systematic review of the barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by philanthropists when determining which charities (including health charities or programmes) to fund

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review



BACKGROUND: Philanthropists, charity leaders and policy-makers have increasingly recognised that the process of giving resources needs to be grounded in evidence-sometimes referred to as 'evidence-based' or 'data-driven' philanthropy. Yet few philanthropists practise evidence-based philanthropy, and some contend that there is insufficient evidence on which to base their funding decisions. This review aims to identify factors that promote or limit the use of evidence by philanthropists and to rigorously evaluate all existing research on this issue.

OBJECTIVES: To identify, synthesise, and evaluate appropriate and rigorous research, examining factors which act as barriers to or facilitators of the use of evidence by philanthropists.

METHODS: This review was conducted according to Cochrane standards and reported following PRISMA guidelines. The review protocol was pre-registered ( dx.doi.org/10.17504/protocols.io.wbsfane ). We searched 10 interdisciplinary databases using a highly sensitive search strategy, developed in consultation with an information scientist. We also contacted experts and searched a range of websites. Studies were included if they comprised primary research into or systematic reviews of the barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by philanthropists or funders when determining which charities (including health charities or programmes) to fund. All studies were appraised for quality, and the results synthesised using thematic analysis.

RESULTS: Of 686 studies identified through database and hand searching, nine met inclusion criteria. The thematic summary identified three main barriers to philanthropists or funders using evidence: (1) inadequate knowledge transfer and difficulties accessing evidence, (2) challenges in understanding the evidence and (3) insufficient resources. The three key factors that expedite the use of evidence are (1) improved knowledge transfer and more accessible/relevant high-quality information, (2) access to professional advisors and networks and (3) broadening the definition of what counts as credible evidence along with standardisation of reporting.

CONCLUSIONS: The authors of this review found several compelling arguments for promoting the use of evidence by philanthropists to inform their philanthropy. If evidence-based philanthropy is to flourish, then they recommed the following actions: Firstly, philanthropy should be underpinned by a commitment to 'do no harm'. Secondly, the definition of evidence should be expanded and funding decisions based upon consideration of 'all available evidence'. Finally, there should be more investment in synthesizing evidence and in the infrastructure for knowledge transfer.


Original languageEnglish
Article number199
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Aug 2020


  • Barriers and facilitators, Philanthropy, Evidence