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.

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.

 

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 4, 2011

A Review of the Guardian ACTIVATE Summit (London)

by Dinesh Venkateswaran, Manager – Global Data Acquisitions, TechSoup Global

Guardian’s ACTIVATE is an annual conference that aims to bring together leaders in Media, Government and Technology to activatedly discuss approaches to addressing nagging challenges of the current times (including the grand ones of poverty, dictatorship and natural disaster). This time on 22nd June at King’s Place in London, ACTIVATE’s assemblage of personalities included senior bureaucrats, executives in multilaterals and high-impact entrepreneurs in the social media space, mostly from the western world and Africa, besides others. Being a novice in the Third Sector, my interest in this conference was mainly about the opportunity it gave me to hear leaders in the sector discuss the challenges faced at the grassroots level; the most fundamental problems that people in less favourable environments face and how we could help solve them. However, the surprise was: regardless of the stated topics of panel discussions, the most prominent and recurring theme debated at the conference emerged to be: value of data in ‘saving the world’.

As towering a proposition as that may sound, the data theme seemed the most natural direction that each of the eight or so panel discussions could take; the most fundamental of considerations that united the eminent panellists’ individual professional pursuits. Ironically, it kept me interested in the discussions, and, I believe, helped broaden my perspective of how we could potentially employ data towards triggering social change, great and small. Broadly, the topics discussed included democracy, value of mobile technologies, distribution of power and wealth, transparency in data and governance, profiting from social change projects and access to data and tools. Below are some quotes from the conference:

  • “Connection technologies could and should disrupt and redistribute power… If you are a control freak you are in the wrong century”: Alec Ross, Senior Adviser to US Secretary of State, speaking on Open Governance
  • “(In Africa) the race is on to find what mobiles can do in areas as disparate as public health, governance and education”: Rakesh Rajani, Tweweza, talking about the potential dramatic impact of the mobile phone in Africa in the next five years
  • “Vision is just as important as technology”: Ricken Patel of Awaaz.org talking about how focus on technology many times eclipses the social goal.
  • “It’s not about technology, it’s finally about who uses it and how”: Ken Banks of Kiwanja and the tendency of social media people to get preoccupied with technology.
  • “15% of UK population hasn’t experienced the Internet even once”: Martha Lane Fox, UK Government’s Digital champion, on ‘access to all’ being critical to achieving equality in society.
  • “I freak out hearing people talk about using mobiles for ICT for development in Africa… we in Africa are not different from the rest of the world… we like to buy mobile phones to have fun, talk to friends, listen to music, tweet and connect on Facebook”: Ory Okolloh, Google’s Head of Policy and Government Relations, Africa.
  • “Leadership must be strategic… should enable power in members and facilitate a global impact of highly local activity”: Jeremy Heimans, Purpose, Australia, while he argued that micro payments are a better funding model than plain charity, for social change projects.

Storify has published a summary of tweets from the conference, if you are interested in knowing more of what people said. On the core themes of the conference, many examples of successful social entrepreneurship were presented, including the KickStarter for crowd funding, Jolitics for online activism, Palindrome Advisors to accelerate professional managerial involvement in philanthropy, Beatbullying for empowerment of children, Twaweza’s information brokering for social change in Tanzania, and the MyFarm project that enables about 10k internet denizens collectively run a farm. There was a short and informative film, too, titled Up in Smoke, on sustainable and innovative farming, which I enjoyed very much. The role of technology in these initiatives varied largely, but there was one thing common to them – the huge role of people in powering the initiatives.

Personally, though, the summit helped me realise that we should not only extract and visualise insights from raw data but must also develop the skills needed to tell the stories that need to be told through data. That simply was the lingering message that remains.

April 11, 2011

Enter to Win the European Open Data Challenge

This was first posted on the NetSquared blog

Are you interested in using open data for good in Europe? The Open Data Challenge is designed to encourage interesting ways of reusing public data for the benefit of European citizens.  The competition encourages anyone from programmers to non-technical idea-makers to help create a useful app using public data.

Do you have a great idea? Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Ideas – Anyone can suggest an idea for projects which reuse public information to do something interesting or useful.
  • Apps – Teams of developers can submit working applications which reuse public information.
  • Visualisations – Designers, artists and others can submit interesting or insightful visual representations of public information.
  • Datasets – Public bodies can submit newly opened up datasets, or developers can submit derived datasets which they’ve cleaned up, or linked together

The Open Data Challenge is open between now and June 5. Enter your ideas to win one of several cash prizes!

March 28, 2011

Where, Why and When Should a CSO report?

By Keisha Taylor

CSOs usually report to government regulatory bodies and intergovernmental donors and institutional donors when required. In the majority of countries a lot of information about registered CSOs is held by government departments and in institutional donor databases. Information held by governments and donors is usually difficult to access, though vital to understanding development infrastructure. However, charitable organisations are now reporting a lot more via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, blurring the lines between reporting and communicating. This however, still tends to be primarily a northern phenomenon. Furthermore, if CSOs believe that reporting via social networking sites may lead to persecution they will be less likely to use them.

Where a CSO reports depends to some extent on why they report. As tax exempt organisations that are funded by the tax payer, registered CSOs are usually legally obligated to report to government departments. However, they can also voluntarily report information via other channels. When information is in the public domain anyone can access it, but finding reliable up to date information about CSOs remains problematic in many countries. Though large CSOs may tend to be more well known, most CSOs are small, voluntary organisations and many remain unregistered and unknown beyond their immediate support group. With stories like Rwanda: Report Exposes Sham NGOs circulating and increasing doubts about the effectiveness of donations, reporting has taken on renewed importance. However, many organisations do not have the resources to prioritise reporting that is not mandatory. If reporting can on some level be integrated with communications this can prove very worthwhile to a CSO.

According to the One World TrustCivil society organisations (CSOs) are facing increasing pressure to demonstrate their accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness. In response, a growing number are coming together at national, regional and international level, to define common standards and promote good practice through codes of conduct, certification schemes, reporting frameworks, directories and awards. However, CSOs, donors and other potential users are often unaware of their existence or what distinguishes one initiative from another, making it difficult for to make choices around which initiative best suits their needs”. The One World Trust created a database of all the self-regulatory initiatives (309 are listed) in existence worldwide, some government supported, others supported by independent regulatory bodies and some by umbrella organisations.  This helps to illustrate how the growth of the sector is leading CSOs and other institutions to set up bodies which aid self-regulatory reporting. Communications efforts can also weigh heavily in such reporting efforts as even awards and quality standards are used to communicate to the public about how an NGO’s performance.

Different political, social and cultural environments influence not only what CSOs report but when they report. Organisations may remain unregistered to avoid prosecution, so their reporting will be voluntary and sometimes in a risk averse manner. Reporting can prove difficult if governments tend to clamp down on civil society organisations that work against government norms, or are supported by foreign donors. The provision of a secure reporting environment within a wider enabling framework therefore increases the likelihood of CSOs reporting on a voluntary basis. Different countries have different legislation, which influence whether reports by or about CSOs should be made publicly available. Freedom of Information laws are increasing worldwide and some of them require CSO information to be made available on request.

What Should a CSO Report and How Should They Report?

What an organisation chooses to say about their work sometimes differs from what is said in private and/or mundane reports that they are obligated to file. For instance, if fundraising is an important issue, as is the case with most CSOs, this will influence what they report to the respective funder. It may include basic information as well as objectives, financial records and achievements. Reporting also depends on a country’s legal and financial systems. If some information is not mandatory a CSO may be less likely to report it. However, information from a well developed report can be extracted for use in communications materials by CSOs. The more time an NGO invests in thorough reporting the more materials can possibly be made available for communications efforts.

CSOs can report via the Internet, mobile phones, radio as well as by using traditional offline methods. Using multiple channels then allows others to report on their behalf, increasing the perceived validity of the report. The more reports are available to help validate what an organisation communicates about its work, the more confident other stakeholders will be to spread the CSO’s message. That is if they find it interesting of course! A website report can be linked to, tweeted, posted on Facebook, and possibly integrated into other communications outlets, by the CSO as well as other individuals and organisations that are interested in their work. Within this new technological environment CSOs must therefore not only communicate but report. This type of reporting also facilitates two way communications where both reports and feedback from the public and other stakeholders can also be included to aid validation. Indeed the Kiva model shows just how intertwined communications and reporting can be.

A report by the UN Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation titled Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in Mobile Use by NGOs found that “Eight-six percent of NGO employees are using mobile technology in their work. NGO representatives working on projects in Africa or Asia are more likely to be mobile technology users than their colleagues in areas with more ‘wired’ infrastructures. Ninety-nine percent of technology users characterize the impact of mobile technology as positive. Moreover, nearly a quarter describe this technology as “revolutionary” and another 31 percent say it would be difficult to do their jobs without it.” The way we communicate as well as report may indeed change, facilitated not only by social networking sites but by the mobile phone revolution and other new advances in technology.

Look out for the next post which will talk about the where, why and when of reporting!

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