GuideStar International's Blog

October 2, 2012

Cross-Border Philanthropy Grows Up as U.S. Treasury and IRS Rules Reduce Barriers to International Philanthropy

By Keisha Taylor

Giving overseas can be tedious and costly given the complexity of a vast and diverse global civil society sector. Charities, NPOs, NGOs, community-based organisations, foundations, and associations all work for social benefit, but are called and categorised differently depending on country. This can create complications for funders and donors wanting to give. Knowledge of the regulatory framework, the inner workings of the NGO, how best the NGO will be able to put resources to use, and even what help is needed to build capacity is often lacking.

This is why the announcement on 24 September that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS have recommended a significant change in the process for determining whether a foreign nongovernmental organization (NGO) meets U.S. standards for charitable giving is indeed an important one. Rules regarding the process of evaluating whether a non-U.S. NGO is equivalent to a U.S. public non-profit have not changed for 20 years.  In “Reliance Standards for Making Good Faith Determinations,” published in the Federal Register, Treasury and the IRS proposed regulations to lessen the administrative and financial burdens for U.S. grantmakers to engage in international philanthropy.

The  U.S. recently joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to help make global development finance more open, shareable, standardized, and transparent. Similarly the proposed regulations also take us another step closer to building better and more streamlined grantmaking standards for NGOs worldwide. This can help to increase the effectiveness of cross-border philanthropy.

The U.S. has a long history of institutional philanthropy, —both corporations, government, and the American people have donated billions to causes not only in the U.S., but also overseas.  A look at the National Trust’s Chronological history of Philanthropy in America, shows that as far back as 1601, a Statute of Charitable Uses, enacted by Parliament became the cornerstone of Anglo-American law of philanthropy. The recent announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the Treasury and IRS rule changes is a milestone for global grantmaking.

Secretary Clinton Delivers Remarks at the Global Philanthropy Working Group Launch

Today the U.S. gives the most in Overseas Development Aid (ODA). While this refers to government as donor, thousands of corporations and millions of citizens have also provided money and resources overseas. However, in today’s recession stricken world, the way aid is given is being turned on its head. While the United States continues to be the largest donor by volume with net ODA flows of 30.7 US billion in 2011 (this represented a fall of -0.9% in real terms from 2010).

Governments, corporations, and citizens want to know more about the institutions they want to give to, and wish to avoid waste and corruption in foreign aid. The quantity and quality of NGO aid is not always held to account. While no two NGOs are the same, knowing more about the NGOs that receive overseas aid and its equivalence to U.S. NGOs will be a big help for accountability efforts.

Secretary Clinton noted in her remarks that the regulatory changes clear the way for the establishment of organizations that can serve as repositories for equivalency determinations. The Council of Foundations and TechSoup Global have been working together to create such a repository, called NGOsource, which they hope to launch as soon as possible. Today the equivalency determination (ED) process differs from grantmaker to grantmaker, is very costly (each ED can cost between $5,000 to $10,000) and if done improperly, may lead to inconsistent and subjective findings. NGOsource will make it easier and more affordable to evaluate whether a non-U.S. organisation is equivalent to a U.S. public charity through a centralized, streamlined, and standardized ED process.

Rebecca Masisak, co-CEO of TechSoup Global has said “Secretary Clinton’s announcement and the IRS guidance support a shared cross-sector vision of ways to reduce redundancy and lower costs and are a welcome signal from the government to grantmakers and their grantees.”
While Sheila Warren, director of NGOsource for TechSoup Global and an attorney with expertise on tax-exempt law said “The IRS guidance is an encouraging building block for the development of an equivalency determination repository that will enable private foundations to identify and grant to overseas NGOs with greater confidence and ease.”

This will undoubtedly take us one step closer to more effective cross-border philanthropy. This is especially important in today’s data-driven world where more transparent, reliable, and streamlined processes are needed to make it easier to realise social benefit globally.

You can read the entire press release on the announcement here.

Hear from experts about this issue at two upcoming events. On 4 October, the D.C. Bar will host a panel discussion in-person and via webinar. On 5 October, experts — including Sheila Warren, director of NGOsource for TechSoup Global — will discuss the rule change in a conference call briefing.

You can also receive updates about regulatory decisions affecting international grantmaking and about NGOsource by signing up online at www.ngosource.org/subscribe.

July 23, 2012

Technology, Data, and Indian Nonprofits: Enabling Philanthropy

By Keisha Taylor, communications manager at  TechSoup Global & for its GuideStar International program. This was first posted on the Techsoup.org blog

 Technology product donations, training, and nonprofit data are all part of TechSoup Global’s offering to civil society in India. Our BigTech program is run by our local partner, the NASSCOM Foundation in India. And the GuideStar India program was launched by our partner, Civil Society Information Systems (CSIS) India, through our GuideStar International program.

Nonprofits throughout India are now benefiting by getting high visibility and access to information and technology for their work.

 According to the Indian Central Statistical Office, there are 3.3 million NGOs in India. While the estimated number of operational NGOs is about one-third of that, there is little transparency on their activity.

GuideStar India is increasing the visibility of the nonprofit sector to multiple stakeholders by providing reliable information on more than 2,500 NGOs. It is also encouraging nonprofits to become better at reporting on their activities. GuideStar India is connecting the nonprofits on their site with those who need their help or want to lend support.

For example, the Surf Excel India’s Back to School Campaign reached out to needy children who go to learning centers and schools run by NGOs. Their Facebook campaign page engaged more than 800,000 fans during the campaign and sensitized them to the needs of poor children.

Their posts on Facebook also highlighted how fans could easily make a difference. The campaign gave exposure to 168 NGOs and raised 125,000 rupees in addition to in-kind donations.

GuideStar India put the Surf Excel team in touch with Child Survival India to provide essential teaching and reading materials to schoolchildren. The materials were donated by another school run by one of their Facebook fans.

Nonprofits in India are realizing that putting up their data voluntarily on GuideStar India can bring them resources and capacity-building opportunities. And donors and institutions looking for nonprofits find it convenient and efficient to access nonprofit information and connections through GuideStar India.

According to Fatima Lawrence, president of Lakkasandra Ashwini Mahila Sangha, a nonprofit featured on GuideStar India, “Opportunity knocks at your door only once, but GuideStar India knocks at your door again and again until you grab the opportunity!”

GuideStar India is also helping NGOs take advantage of the BigTech program and NASSCOM Foundation’s supportive technology activities.

Usha Pillai, chairperson of the IDEA Foundation, said, “Soon after being a part of GuideStar India, we got to attend an IT workshop conducted by NASSCOM Foundation. Our presence on the GuideStar India and a social networking site has helped us to get an industry donor looking for a small NGO. It is a phenomenal long-term value from GuideStar India to a small NGO like ours within a few months.”

Technology donations have also transformed nonprofit operations. The Hunger Project India helps those affected by hunger and victimized by social suppression in six Indian states. To help sustain their activities, they rely on accurate data monitoring and reporting.

However, data processing and collaboration were difficult because they used non-licensed and outdated software. Absence of effective antivirus applications slowed their computers, and there was limited uniformity and standardization in their infrastructure.

The Hunger Project India registered for and received a BigTech donation of Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Upgrade, Office Professional Plus 2010, and QuickHeal antivirus software.

Today, they use Microsoft Access for their data evaluation and database management. Microsoft Excel helps in preparation of their financial reports and accounting. Moreover, Quick Heal antivirus eliminated the viruses and resulted in a faster and more efficient functioning of the organization.

Bharani Sundarajan, program officer at The Hunger Project, said, “Participating in the BigTech program has had a positive outcome as it helped us maintain uniform and streamlined operations, along with being a time and energy saver. We are thrilled to be associated with it.”

Through its partners in India, TechSoup Global’s support to Indian NGOs is helping them to use and benefit from technology. Data on Indian nonprofits is also proving invaluable for visibility, transparency, and effectiveness of the sector.

June 27, 2012

Guardian Reports on TechSoup Global/Guardian Charity Data Seminar

Big data, open data, charity reporting and crowdsourcing were the order of the day at the recent Transforming your charity by bringing your data to life seminar that TechSoup Global hosted in collaboration with The Guardian. Today, the Guardian published an article about the seminar in their paper, titled: Getting to Grips with Big Data which gives a report of the seminar. The article focuses on why charities should start using ‘big data’ and ‘open data’ for the benefit of their communities. Also discussed were some of the difficulties charities face in knowing what tools to use, and understanding what data they should provide and collect to save money, be more effective and help the public. Videos of 2 of the speaker presentations are available (the other 2 will be posted next week) and you can find a copy of all presentations below.

Some key highlights:
Marnie Webb, Co-CEO and Paul van Haver, Director of Global Services of TechSoup Global Data Services highlighted the need for charities to help transform the way they engage with and service their community through the use of data. Watch the VIDEO! Presentation: We are “Big Data” (and so can you!)

We are “Big Data” (and so can you!)

View more PowerPoint from GuideStarintl

Dave Coplin, Director of Search, Bing, spoke about how big data is transforming how businesses are making decisions, the way it is being used for the popular Kinect, as well as the privacy issues. Watch the Video! Presentation: Big Data, Machine Learning and You

Karl Wilding of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) spoke of the work that the NCVO is doing to provide charity data and gain insights to the sector. He also spoke of the struggle to find sustainable ways to provide data openly. Presentation: Data @NCVO

Nathaniel Manning, Director of Business Development and Strategy at Ushahidi illustrated how they use crowdsourcing, big data and the opensource tools they have developed to help with disaster relief, political accountability and other development issues. Mobile phones were identified as one of the key ways that data is provided and collected in developing countries. Presentation: Ushahidi: Made in Africa

We are also hosting an international tweetchat on charities and data on Wednesday 27 June to discuss topics from the seminar on 10:00 a.m. Pacific time / 6:00 p.m. British Summer Time (BST). You can follow in our tweetchat room and comment on the article, seminar, presentations and tweetchat on twitter using #npdata.

 

June 12, 2012

Upcoming International Tweet Chat on June 27: Data

Filed under: Access to information — guidestarinternational @ 16:51
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As we posted earlier, TechSoup Global  is hosting a seminar titled “Transforming Your Charity by Bringing Your Data to Life” in conjunction with the Guardian.

To keep this exciting conversation going, we are also producing a tweet chat on Wednesday, June 27 at 6:00 pm London time. The tweet chat is designed to spark an international conversation, spanning multiple time zones.

Join us on Twitter or on TweetChat.com using the hashtag #npdata.

The conversation will focus on the power of data and how it can be used to achieve the objectives of nonprofits, charities, libraries, and other civil society organisations. Participants will be able to ask questions and share knowledge around what relevant data they can share to benefit their organizations and the social good sector.

How to Participate

  • Join us directly in the TweetChat room to follow along with the conversation
  • Participate in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #npdata

Have questions about data you want to see answered during the tweet chat? Tweet them to @TechSoup and include the hashtag #npdata.

Never participated in a tweet chat before? Check out this how-to in TechSoup’s Nonprofit Social Media 101 Wiki and watch the video below.

February 14, 2012

What do you think of when you hear “Open Data?”

Filed under: Access to information — guidestarinternational @ 10:37
Tags: , ,

By Keisha Taylor

‘Open Data’ has become the way we refer to data that is easily accessible in the public domain and free for anyone to use in whatever way they want. This open data is most valuable however, when it is not only easy to access but also when it is reused. This post that I wrote for the TechSoup Global blog talks about if using the term open data can actually sometimes discourage rather than encourage reuse of this data by community service organisations and the wider public. Read the post.

January 6, 2012

International Transparency Initiative makes world giving open, shareable, standardized, transparent

By Keisha Taylor

This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global blog

The open data revolution has come to aid’ writes open data advocate Owen Barder (known for his work on development policy), and yet while the US is the world’s largest bilateral donor, Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index states that five of six US aid agencies are not very transparent. Why does this matter? Because the quality as well as the quantity of international aid is critical to the fate of the developing world (and the developed world’s as well!) and there are significant questions about whether aid is accomplishing its purposes. For example, aid may even be creating dependency rather than development in Africa, according to Dambiso Moyo’s book Dead Aid.

Thus, it is good news that the USA has now agreed to join the International Transparency Initiative (IATI) since that now means 80% of global development finance will be open, shareable, standardized, and transparent. This also complements the US foreign assistance dashboard, which is now available (but still in development).  US government agencies, partner country governments, CSOs and citizens can use it to research and track US foreign assistance investment.

IATI is the result of a conversation started among governments and bi-lateral/multilateral donors at the Paris High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, which resulted in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005. The Accra Agenda for Action was subsequently formulated to help implement the Declaration, and IATI was established in 2008 to provide support for the Agenda. But an IATI standard for publishing aid was only agreed upon in February 2011. Then, towards the end of last year, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation provided an updated framework that the world’s donors, developing country governments, CSOs, and other aid stakeholders have agreed upon.

Now that America has joined IATI, it could possibly encourage Brazil, Russia, India and China (the “BRIC countries”) and other non-governmental US donors, donor countries, and aid recipient countries to do the same. Indeed BRIC countries, while not IATI signatories, have contributed to the Busan Partnership document.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor ($30 billion annually!), US participation in the movement towards open data, which includes open aid data, may be a gamechanger but only if they really start publishing much more data. On the other hand, open data is in no way an end in itself. If it is not used — and reused — it loses impact.

In my next post, I’ll explain why.

December 29, 2011

New Portal to Promote US Giving to Indian NGOs

Consul General Peter Haas and others listening to GuideStar India CEO, Pushpa Aman Singh speaking at the Roundtable

This was first posted on the GuideStar India blog

GuideStar India and the U.S. Department of State held a “Philanthropy in India Roundtable” on December 21 in Mumbai. Over 40 leaders from the Indian philanthropy sector discussed the creation of a new online portal that will assist private donors seeking to support Indian NGOs.

GuideStar India is an existing portal of fully searchable information on over 1400 registered NGOs in India, and will serve as the platform for the new portal which is designed to connect private U.S. donors with Indian NGOs and organizations. The group agreed that such a portal should also help address two critical needs:
(1) empowering and educating donors by introducing more information and transparency into the sector; and (2) strengthening capacity-building amongst Indian NGOs.

The new portal will aggregate NGO certifications provided by independent third parties and present the information in a format easily searchable and accessible by potential donors. Neither GuideStar nor the U.S. Government will rate or certify NGOs. The portal will empower donors and allow them to make better informed decisions. Indian NGOs, intermediaries, facilitators, foundations and other organizations and individuals involved in philanthropy in India will benefit through enhanced visibility.

The roundtable participants provided input on the design of the portal to GuideStar representatives. The diverse group of leaders gathered at the roundtable reflected the shared desire of the private sector, civil society and the U.S. State Department to explore new and creative ways to support Indian NGOs.

November 21, 2011

Projects we are watching: OpenDataPhilly

Filed under: Access to information,Access to Public Information — guidestarinternational @ 09:38
Tags: , , ,

by Keisha Taylor

This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global Blog

Nonprofit organisations and the public are at the heart of a new Open Government Data initiative in Philadelphia!. OpenDataPhilly, a catalogue of online data, applications and APIs is now freely available to the public. Azavea, a geospatial analysis (GIS) software development company, Technically Philly, WHYY Newsworks, NPower Pennsylvania, the William Penn Foundation and the City of Philadelphia’s Open Access Philly task force are partnering on this initiative. Collaboration between government, technology companies, nonprofits, the public and inspired techies is prioritised and this is to be commended. Those involved in the project have been building a community of practice around the topic of ‘open data and government transparency’ but also advocating for the release of more and quite varied datasets.

In September the Open Data Race was launched, enabling non-profits to nominate data sets that they believe if released by the City of Philadelphia would further their missions. The general public can vote for their favourite datasets (and the non-profits that nominated them) until 27th October. The Open Data Race partners will work with the City of Philadelphia to release the winning data sets. At the end of the contest, cash prizes will be awarded to the winners. They are also organising hack-a-thons, to encourage civic hackers to build applications with the newly released data. It is a very innovative way of promoting dialogue between nonprofits, government, the public and the technology community to make open data real and useful for all.

This interesting open government data initiative illustrates very well how nonprofits can be encouraged to engage with open government data. According to Robert Cheetham, CEO and President of Azavea. “Several major cities have released open data catalogs over the past few years. But these municipalities all have limited resources and struggle with prioritizing which data sets will be most useful. The Open Data Race is an experiment aimed at both building a community and constituency around open data and open government as well as helping the City to prioritize the inevitably limited resources it can apply to releasing data sets while also delivering social value.” This project is definitely one to watch!

More info can be found here: OpenDataPhilly Invites the Public to Vote for Data to be Released for Non-Profits

August 3, 2011

Linking Art, Technology, and Data for Online Communications

A host of great speakers were in attendance at the event Public 2.0: Culture, Creativity and Audience in an Era of Information Openness. The free event was held on July 21, 2011, in London. It examined the link between these areas of work and its relevance for communicating today and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Westminster. The event brought together a small gathering journalists, academics, developers, artists, activists, and business people to share ideas, experiences and talk about future possibilities in this space.

Historic Figures Used Data Visualization to Create Change

Florence Nightingale Visualisation

Florence Nightingale was one of the first people to use data to help inform public policy. She discovered that the majority of deaths in the Crimea were due to poor sanitation rather than casualties in battle. She was able to use her Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East to persuade the government of the need for better hygiene in hospitals. John Snow was also able to disprove the theory that cholera was an airborne disease and prove that it was actually caused by contaminated water using a data visualisation.

John Snow Map

Nonprofits have long known the power of images (in particular photos) to gain support for and increase awareness of their work. Today, data visualisation, when done effectively, can provide additional, insightful images. These can also be powerful tools in helping organizations understand needs and influence others with the goal of realising positive social changes in communities.

Diverse Mix of Speakers/Presentations at Event

BBC Data Art, copyright BBC

  • Simon Rogers, Editor of the Guardian Datablog and Datastore gave a great presentation featuring some of the ways in which the paper is using data for reporting. Full datasets are also available for download from the paper’s website. I particularly liked the transparent data model, which shows how the paper processes its data before it is presented as a visualisation.
  • Ian Forrester, Senior Producer at BBC Research & Development, revealed some of the ways that the BBC is emphasising data and social media for reporting, but also examined the patterns and trends that are emerging with the proliferation of data online. He discussed how the ability for individual users to monitor and aggregate their personal data from social media sites and self-tracking devices is leading to the Quantified Self.

    BBC Data Art, copyright BBC

  • The presentation by Drew Helment of Manchester’s Future Everything examined the latest developments at the intersection of art and technology. The group is working with public sector partners to free Greater Manchester’s public data via the DataGM project.
  • The Founder of Furtherfield, Ruth Catlow, also spoke about the need for cross fertilisation of art and technology during her presentation on an open source art world.
  • The showcase of the DataArt project for BBC Data by Harry Robbins of Outlandish Ideas illustrated just how easy it can be to find data with the right interactive visualisations. Do explore! Santiago Ortiz of Bestario’s live demo of the new Impure visualisation software was also interesting.

NGOs Should Visualize Their Data for Greater Impact

Powerful images will forever continue to help nonprofits communicate effectively, so too can data visualisations. Nonprofit communicators need to understand how they can use visualisations to communicate not only internally but also openly with the public. I’d venture that art, data and technology will continue to merge rather than collide. The resulting visualisations and underlying raw data may become a vital means of communications in a globalised world. This is especially true if nonprofits can interact with and question the data visualisations they produce and are presented with.

How can we achieve such data literacy? There’s help!

Most notably, the new Data Without Borders initiative supported by Jake Porway, a data scientist at the New York Times, “seeks to match non-profits in need of data analysis with freelance and pro bono data scientists who can work to help them with data collection, analysis, visualization, or decision support”. Data meetups are also sprouting all over the world to help anyone who wants to learn more about these issues. Find one near you. I look forward to seeing this type of work develop and increase!

July 26, 2011

Apps4Russia Calls for Open Data and Transparency Based Application Ideas

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 10:06
Tags:

This was originally posted on the NetSquared blog

Apps4Russia is a contest that’s been initiated by Ivan Begtin, founder of OpenGovData.ru and a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation‘s (OKF) Working Group on Open Government Data.

The contest welcomes web and application developers to create projects based on the foundation of using open government data for public benefit and nurturing more transparency in government.

It is great to see an increased engagement with data in countries around the world.  Again, we in the NGO sector need to be thinking seriously about how our data is included in these sets so that they are a part of the apps and a part of the useage and decision-making around them.

Marnie Webb, Co-CEO of TechSoup Global, Apps4Russia is looking for a few good ideas

Projects may be submitted in a variety of forms including desktop, mobile or web based application. Please note your project should not be associated with any political party or movement.

The contest offers prizes to the top three projects including a first place prize of 100 thousand rubles. Apps4Russia is already underway (having kicked off on June 30st 2011) and will run until October 1st 2011. The winning ideas selected will be announced on October 15th 2011.

Apps4Russia is a great example of what countries can achieve by calling for action through the use of open data to address local issues, encourage change and unleash solutions to common problems.

Learn more about Apps4Russia in Russian or English
Have an idea to submit? You can submit an application here

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