GuideStar Blog

The Next Generation of Nonprofit Data Standards

 

The_Next_Generation_of_Nonprofit_Data_Standards_3-1.jpgOur current moment in the human story is often called the age of information. And indeed, we are too-often overwhelmed by the torrent of data coursing through our lives. As a society, we have developed many tools to organize the information we rely on every day. The Dewey Decimal System helps libraries organize books. UPC codes help stores organize their products. Nutrition labels help to present information about food ingredients and nutritional value (or lack thereof) in a way that’s consistent and predictable.

The nonprofit sector has also relied on data standards: we use the government’s Employer Identification Number (EIN) to identify individual organizations. The National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities (NTEE) is used by many including GuideStar, Foundation Center, and others to help reveal the diversity of the nonprofit community, guide funding decisions, and foster collaboration. 

But just as other information systems have continued to evolve so must ours. When the Dewey Decimal System was developed in 1876, Melvil Dewey could not have imagined Amazon.com, e-readers, or Goodreads.com. Similarly, the EIN/NTEE framework is simply not enough to explain, organize, and share the complex story of nonprofits.

So we are glad to share that a new generation of social sector data standards is emerging. These can help us all do our work better: make smarter decisions while saving time to focus on our shared work.  

There a several standards that are important, but we’d like to direct attention to four:

Standard

Description

History

BRIDGE

A unique identifier for every nonprofit organization in the world.

A joint project among GlobalGiving, Foundation Center, GuideStar, and TechSoup Global.

Philanthropy Classification System

A taxonomy that describes the work of foundations, recipient organizations and the philanthropic transactions among them.

Led by Foundation Center with significant input from hundreds of stakeholders.

GuideStar Profile Standard

A standardized framework for nonprofits to tell their own stories.  Used by more than 100,000 nonprofits.

Includes the five Charting Impact questions (developed in partnership with Independent Sector and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance).  GSPS feeds the GuideStar for Grants system that was developed as part of the Simplify Initiative in partnership with the Technology Affinity Group.

eGrant/hGrant

An easy way for foundations to share the grants they make in near-real time.

Over 1,200 foundations use eGrant to report their grants data to Foundation Center and 19 foundations publish their data in open format through the Reporting Commitment.

 

This list is by no means comprehensive — other standards are also important, including, but not limited to, IATI and PerformWell.  Others could become important for the field, like XBRL or LEI. But for now, we urge the nonprofit sector to understand these four standards and, where possible, to adopt them for your own use.

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It is worth noting that we in the nonprofit sector use the word “standards” in two distinct ways. First, there are “practice standards” that work to define excellence. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance Standards for Charity Accountability or the Independent Sector’s Principles for Good Governance and Effective Practice fit this definition. Practice standards are a powerful way to help define and promote good practices. 

But here we’re pointing to “data standards” that are simply a way of organizing information in a consistent format to make it more useful. Both practice standards and data standards exist to help us do our work better. Neither guarantee excellence, but in different ways they help us drive towards excellence. 

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As a field, we need to absolutely minimize the amount of time we spend managing data — and maximize the time we spend solving problems. Think of these standards as enablers to help us do just that, and do it at scale.

Join GuideStar CEO Jacob Harold and his special guest Foundation Center president Brad Smith for their webinar, How Data Standards Can Help Save the World, on May 12th at 2 P.M. ET. In the event, they’ll discuss ways data standards are already improving the grantmaking process for both funders and grantees. They’ll also address how foundations can participate in these initiatives and promote a better information system for the sector. 

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jacob-harold-100x140.jpgJacob Harold serves as the president and chief executive at GuideStar, the world’s largest source of information about nonprofits. Jacob is a social change strategist, grantmaker, and author. Jacob came to GuideStar from the Hewlett Foundation, where he led grantmaking for the Philanthropy Program. Between 2006 and 2012, he oversaw $30 million in grants that, together, aimed to build a 21st-century infrastructure for smart giving. Jacob was named to the NonProfit Times (NPT) 2014 and 2015 Power and Influence Top 50 list, and currently serves as a term member for the Council on Foreign Relations. He has written extensively on climate change and philanthropic strategy. His essays have been used as course materials at Stanford, Duke, Wharton, Harvard, and Oxford.

bradford_smith.jpgBradford K. Smith serves as the president of Foundation Center, the leading source of information about pilanthropy worldwide. The Center maintains the most comprehensive database on U.S. and, increasingly, global grantmakers–a robust, accessible knowledge bank for the sector, together with research, education and training programs designed to advance knowledge of philanthropy at every level.

Topics: Grantmaking Data Standards Social Sector Data
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