Philanthropy Classification System

Taxonomy Draft Review FAQ

Why is the Foundation Center updating its taxonomy at this time?

The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) is a taxonomic system used by the IRS, Foundation Center, GuideStar, TechSoup Global, the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), and countless grantmaking and nonprofit organizations to classify the work of our sector. This taxonomy serves as one of the most critical resources in the world in helping to collect and make philanthropic data accessible to the public: it enables grantseekers to find targeted support, helps funding organizations collaborate with each other and identify potential grantees, and assists researchers and academics who are analyzing the work of the sector.

Through the years the Center has worked with affinity groups, regional associations, taxonomists, geographers, and experts from particular sectors to help evolve the NTEE and develop deeper subject coverage on many topics, including water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); human rights; and disability and sexuality issues. The Center has also identified trends in the data provided to us by the nearly 850 foundations who supply data via our eGrant and hGrant Reporting programs. In 2012, to better meet the sector’s needs, the Center began an extensive revision of our Grants Classification System, reexamining the codes included in the taxonomy as well as the overall structure.

Over the last 18 months, the Foundation Center has been working on a revised version of the NTEE and overall Classification System, with an eye towards streamlining the top level categories and enriching deeper levels of the coding system to make it more relevant for a globalized 21st Century audience. For example, we have added a new section to the field of activities related to information and media, including associated technologies, and have created a new facet in the classification system for transaction type to capture the various forms of philanthropy that happen around the world beyond the U.S. tradition of a cash grant. The updated taxonomy will fill in many of the gaps left behind by the current NTEE and allow for deeper analysis of the activities and organizations within the social sector by all the philanthropic actors around the globe.   

Who at my organization should review the new taxonomy and provide feedback?

The people most familiar with your funding areas, current coding practices and data analysis, in addition to members of your communications team, are ideal candidates for completing the review.  They are well-versed in the codes your organization is currently using and are in a great position to evaluate (1) how your codes compare to our proposed taxonomy (2) how the codes the Center is proposing might be of value to your organization and (3) if the taxonomy captures the critical major concepts important to your work.

Why are there four different ways to view the taxonomy?

Knowing that different people have different learning styles and approaches to information management, we wanted to provide a number of options that would accommodate a variety of styles. Below, you’ll find an overview of each of the four options:

Visual Navigator – The navigation tool, accessible in the Explore widget in the right column of each facet landing page, allows you to navigate each facet of the taxonomy using the bubbles to guide your drill-down into each section.  For areas that have more results than can be displayed in the window, a scroll bar around the outside of the display will appear that you can use to see additional results.

Hierarchy – The hierarchy, accessible at the bottom of each facet page, allows you to click on the +/- before a term to expand and collapse each facet of the taxonomy. This option allows you to explore the terms in each section in a more traditional taxonomy view.

Downloads – The downloads section breaks out each facet of the taxonomy into separate tabs that you can view in Excel.  This is the most suitable approach for those who wish to see an entire section and all the parent/child relationships of codes in that area (e.g., Health or Race and Ethnicity).

Search – The search function of the draft is currently limited to an exact match to a term name, as the current version of the proposed draft is not populated with related terms and keywords.  If there are terms in our current taxonomy or the NTEE that you want to confirm are still present in the new model, the search feature will meet your needs.

What types of things should I be looking for and commenting on as I do my review?

As you review the taxonomy, please keep in mind that the goal is to strike a balance between complexity and simplicity. Rather than include every single issue, priority was given to capturing the major concepts within the social sector. Also keep in mind that, while streamlined, the system can still be overwhelming to some. Please only focus on the areas of interest to you and your organization, and the rest can be put aside. We hope through a sector-wide review and revision process we’ll be able to work together to create a standard that can serve a broad spectrum of needs and make the efforts to share data across the sector that much easier.

Things to consider might include:

  • Will dividing Type of Support into Transaction Type and Support Strategy allow you to better capture the type of work you do, or will it impede your coding options?
  • Are your areas of work represented in the new model, either in individual codes or through a combination of codes, such as Subject and Population Group?  If not, what do you feel is missing?
  • Will this help you better classify and communicate your work with a broader audience, as well as gain an understanding of how your organization and how your work will be represented in our products and services?

You do not need to review and comment on the entire taxonomy to participate in this process.  Feel free to simply review the portions that are related to your work. For example, if you are an education funder that works with children, you can comment just on the Education Subject codes and Age or other descriptors in the Population Groups that are reflected in your work.

How do I provide my feedback to the Foundation Center?

Feedback about the new taxonomy draft can be provided to the Center in one of the following ways:

  1. Click on the Comment icon  in the upper-right corner of the term window when using the Visual Browser or Hierarchy viewing options to submit a comment to the Foundation Center.
  2. Click on the Permalink icon  (also in the upper right corner of the term window in the Visual Browser and Hierarchy), to generate a link to the term you wish to comment on that you can then include in an e-mail to the Foundation Center (
  3. Add your comments into the "External Comments" column, highlighted in yellow, of the Excel download and then email the file to the Foundation Center (

Options 1 and 2 are appropriate for those who have limited feedback on the taxonomy (e.g., 10-20 terms across various facets of the draft).  Option 3 is the appropriate option for those who what to provide an extensive list of comments or questions about the draft so they can be reviewed by the Foundation Center as sent from your organization.

If you have general comments about the new structure as content, please e-mail them to Jeannine Corey, director of grants information management,

What will the Foundation Center do with my feedback?

The Foundation Center will be collecting feedback through June 30, 2014.  All comments will be reviewed and used to inform our final updates to the draft, which will be completed during the month of June.  The end result will be an updated taxonomy that can be applied on a global scale to meet the needs of the philanthropic sector.  The final version of the new model will be published by the Foundation Center in the summer of 2014 and the Center will implement the updates into our data over the next 12 months.  Please note, as was the case with our current taxonomy, we will continue to make updates and changes to this new model on an ongoing basis to ensure that we accurately capture the important work you all do.