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.

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.

April 8, 2011

Mobilizing Online Communities in the Face of Disaster: Tips from NetSquared Local Organizers

This post was originally posted on the NetSquared Blog by Alicja Peszkowska, Network Coordinator, Community-Driven Innovation at TechSoup Global

On the 12th of March, one day after the tragic earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan Ichi – Hiroyasu Ichikawa – the NetSquared Local organizer from Tokyo sent an e-mail to our NetSquared Local Organizer listserve asking for the best practices for mobilizing online communities in the time of a disaster. In the weeks that have followed, Ichi’s e-mail provoked a series of responses from all over the world. In this post, we hope to voice many of the tools, resources, and tactics that have been shared, in hopes of encouraging others around the world to get involved with the digital relief efforts.

In response to Ichi, Paula Brantner from the Washington DC Local group suggested taking advantage of the international project called Crisis Commons that sprung into action after the recent Haiti earthquake. Crisis Commons is specifically designed to crowd source the technology needed to leverage communications in the event of a disaster, it helps in finding volunteers and is summing up all of the hand-on actions designed to support the cause.

Amy Sample Ward from the New York group has followed Paula’s e-mail with further suggestions on how and where to aggregate information. One of the online spaces she mentioned was the Google Crisis Response page where you can find the latest information about the crisis as well as make simple donations to the organizations involved in supporting the efforts in Japan. She has also provided the link to the Wikipedia page devoted to the 2011 Tokyo earthquake and tsunami. This resource is an important point of reference for everyone interested in the latest events related to the tragedy, as it has been visited and edited by a lot of people and therefore appears high in the search results.

 

Shufang Tsai from the Taiwan group shared information from one of her community members about an experience with the previous Chilean earthquake that occurred in 2010. The ideas that came from the Chile earthquake experience included setting up a situation map using Ushahidi on the crodmap.com site and asking the volunteers to search through the media news and put them all together in an easily accessible Google Doc. The information could be then added to the Ushahidi map. Other suggestions of the community member in Japan included the usage of the Tweak the Tweet to collect the information from the twitter and facebook. He has also highlighted the importance of keeping the volunteers data saved somewhere (i.e. a Google Doc).

Sarah Schacht from the group that meets in Seattle has put Ichi in touch with the representatives from Crisis Commons and suggested he should list himself at the Honshu Quake Activities @ Crisis Commons wiki. Sarah has also forwarded his information to the Web of Change to attract tech volunteers.

Jonathan Eyler-Werve from the Chicago group added another wiki link to the conversation – the example of how the source has been used to aggregate the information about the Libyan uprising.
Shufang then summed up the online response information and sent links to (among others):

  • Open source disaster management system Sahana (in Japanese language only)

and to various online sources that work with maps such as:

  • ESRI distaster reponse

The next day (13th of March) Ichi sent us the result of this facebook group work (in Japanese language only) as well as a link to the articles he has been writing (in Japanese language only). He also highlighted the importance of learning the lesson from all of the social media crisis responses and planning a long term strategy for the digital curation in case of disaster.

In a response to Ichi JD Lasica from the group in San Francisco shared links to the interviews with Andy Carvin who had been instrumental in setting up the Hurricane Information Center and the subsequent Crisis Camp for Haiti:

Rachel Weidinger from TechSoup Global sent the group links to resources and recovery guides available on the techsoup.org site – Disaster Planning and Recovery Toolkit.

JD Godchaux from NiJel – a community mapping platform seconded Shufangs’ suggestion to work with Crisis Mappers and encouraged Ichi to join the CrisisMappers list. The project was launched locally on March 11th by a Japanese member of the Open Street Map (OSM) community. The crisis map is being supported by onsite volunteers (mainly in Tokyo) along with a group of students (mainly Japanese) out of Boston lead by The Fletcher School. JD also mentioned another instance of Ushahidi to track radiation levels from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The last comment in the threat came from Ichi, who shared the link to the socialmedia dashboard on Netvibes set by him to catch up the current event. Netvibes is a free web site that allows users to set up their own customized start page composed of “modules” which can contain a wide variety of information from dozens and dozens of other sites. It is a great tool to fetch, store and manage various web sources and make the process transparent and easy to access for everyone.

The entire conversation happened within the 72 hours from the Japanese earthquake and wasn’t stopped when the radiation threat became an issue, nor was it paused by the power outage caused by the disaster.  As the Japanese tragedy proves the role of social media in times of a disaster remains a subject of an ongoing conversation. It highlights the importance of connecting with like-minded people to pool the efforts and delegate responsibilities in the times of crisis. We hope that this post will help others who would like to contribute to the relief of the Japanese tragedy and other disasters that will inevitably happen in the future.

Do you have any other tips or tools for Ichi or anyone else who is interested in using the web to provide digital disaster relief? If so, please share your suggestions in the comments below!

January 11, 2011

GuideStar International’s 2010 Year in Blogging

Filed under: Access to information,Aid Effectiveness,civil society,ICT for Development — guidestarinternational @ 12:07

A happy 2011 to all of you and many thanks to everyone that contributed to the thousands of visits this year. Your subscriptions, comments, pingbacks, reposts and link referrals to our blog in 2010 have been great. Here is a list of 2010’s most popular posts!

1.      Haiti: ‘A Republic of NGOs’ – but how do all these local NGOs help?

2.      UK Government’s new watchwords: Transparency, Accountability, Responsibility, Fairness and Empowerment

3.      The link between ICT and Science and Technology in Africa: Implications for Civil Society Organisations

4.      British 2010 budget extends ‘GiftAid’ tax break to the rest of the EU

5.      2010: A Year of Online Clouds, Crowds, and Data Visualizations for CSOs?

6.      Innovative Geocoding Project Maps Aid Data

7.      GuideStar India shares its experience with Taiwan’s voluntary sector

8.      Interview with Royi Biller, CEO, NPTech on GuideStar Israel

9.      PDF Conference discusses Open Data and Social Media in Europe

10.   Philanthropy in Russia: Public Attitudes and Participation

If you would like to be a guest blogger simply email your post to us for consideration at info@guidestarinternational.org. We look forward to hearing from you this year!

October 7, 2010

World Bank reveals more data and updates to the data.worldbank site

By Keisha Taylor

The World Bank has undertaken the task of releasing all of its data to the public for reuse and analysis and what it has achieved since the launch of its Open Data Initiative on 20th April this year is indeed impressive.  The number of datapoints available has grown from 300 in April to 12,000 today.

Last month the World Bank revealed a lot of useful changes to the data.worldbank website.  There are now more options for use of its growing number of datasets via charts, graphs and maps.  All of this data can now also be embedded as widgets on other sites, which is very useful.  It is hoped that other organisations will use the data for their own development work.  World Bank data is also currently available through data downloads and they have released a graphical API query builder to make it easier for programmers to work with the data. Additionally, data is available in Arabic, which is another significant step towards increasing the availability of multilingual data. Read more about the latest changes on the World Bank blog and have a look at the video below.

This is definitely a revolutionary development, which lends support for the view that information, transparency and openness are now prerequisites for development effectiveness.  Data on CSOs is also valuable in the pursuit of development effectiveness and we hope that this too will be made available and analysed within the framework of this Open Data Initiative.  The civil society sector must now be equipped to provide, use, analyse and importantly understand the data available to help bring about positive social change and aid evidence based policy making.

October 1, 2010

Consensus reached over CSO Development Effectiveness Principles at the Global Assembly in Istanbul

Filed under: Accountability,Aid Effectiveness,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 14:32
Tags:

The Istanbul Development Effectiveness Principals were unveiled yesterday at the multi-stakeholder day of the first Global Assembly of the Open Forum for Civil Society Effectiveness,when government representatives from Turkey, Ireland, Finland and America arrived to discuss development cooperation.  CSO representatives from  over 70 countries reached agreement and unanimously endorsed the set of principles for CSO development effectiveness at the Assembly, which was held in Istabul Turkey on the 28th to 30th September 2010.

The 8 principles are the result of almost 70 Consultations (national, regional and thematic) worldwide. They will guide and inform civil society on the road to the HLF4 in Busan next year.

CSO representatives from Fiji to Finland debated and discussed the principles and representatives from such organisations as ALOP, InterAction, CCIC, IBON, Plan, CARE, Trócaire, PIANGO, CONCORD and numerous others fully endorsed them.

For more information, please visit http://www.cso-effectiveness.org/spip.php?page=rubrique&id_rubrique=8&id_article=358. Media Contact: Rachel McGauran, Open Forum Communications Associate. Istanbul number: 05313475856.

August 26, 2010

Conference on Transparency, Free Flow of Information and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

By Caroline Neligan, Director of Partnership and Development, GuideStar International

London, 24-25 August 2010.

Organised by Article 19

This conference was convened in anticipation of the United Nations High Level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) +10, being held in New York from 20-22 September.

The backdrop to this meeting was the substantial progress needed to meet the MDGs and that transparency and the free flow of information are critical principles that must be fully integrated into the development agenda at both international, national and sub national levels if this progress is to happen.

Full details of the conference can be found here http://www.right2info-mdgs.org/conference/. It was an incredibly rich two days with some remarkably thoughtful, wide-ranging and inspiring presentations. Needless to say, it’s impossible to do justice to them but I’d like to provide my immediate reflections on the meeting.

Firstly, there was a very real sense of a growing ‘transparency movement’. This movement brings together right to information, anti-corruption, human rights, budget monitoring, social auditing and development effectiveness experts and activists, among others. Generally these groups work in silos but are starting to recognise the common themes of their work and are seeing that together, we can move the agenda forward and embed access to information in development debates and practice.

Of course, when it came to writing a joint declaration for the UN meetings during our final session, it was harder to reflect all these different interests and concerns, but there was a genuine sense in the room of the complementarity of values and objectives that could be powerful if harnessed properly.

Aruna Roy, of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan in India, the social movement well-known for spear-heading India’s Right to Information laws set the tone for the meeting in her opening plenary remarks. She noted that many in India have never heard of the MDGs or understand what they are. If you don’t know, how can you demand your rights? That said, although they might not be able to articulate the 8 goals, poor people do know what makes and keeps them poor. And much of this is caused or exacerbated by corruption and the arbitrary use of power. Access to information is critical to ending this vicious cycle. There was common agreement in the room that budget transparency, is key for proper accountability – “Our money, our accounts”.

  • Who gets the money?
  • How is it received?
  • Who controls it?
  • Are we getting what we’re paying for?

For me there were some key issues raised from these discussions. Of course we need to make sure that access to information and anti-corruption agreements and laws have teeth. But to even achieve this, there is a real need for proper infrastructure and capacity building so that civil society has the expertise and tools to demand and make use of the information it requires.

Also, civil society itself must expect to be ‘walk the talk’ and practice the principles of transparency that they demand of others. There was much concern expressed, and rightly so, about the “counter -associational revolution” that is occurring in countries around the world where civic space is shrinking or threatened through regressive laws and practices. This is undoubtedly a cause for concern and transparency can indeed be a risk for some organisations and individuals. However, to pick up the refrain of the conference “transparency costs, but lack of transparency costs more”. Information on who’s doing what, where and how, is vital to the growth, influence and impact of the sector and must be expected and enabled.

There is however, a real risk of approaching civil society as a homogenous group, when of course this is simply not the case. International NGOs for example are remarkably influential and are donors themselves – receiving money from both governments and private sources. Where do these organisations see themselves in relation to the IATI work on aid transparency, for example? How can they promote information demand and supply? What can they do to help their partner CSOs report effectively? This, I felt, wasn’t addressed in any detail during the conference but I hope will rise in prominence as the ‘movement’ grows and progresses.

For more, keep an eye on the Right2Info website http://www.right2info-mdgs.org/ also on twitter @right2info_mdgs.

August 20, 2010

Innovative Geocoding Project Maps Aid Data

by Keisha C Taylor

The people at AidData, (a programme of Development Gateway) have teamed up with the World Bank Institute to complete the first stage of a groundbreaking Geocoding project (Mapping for Results Initiative). Wikipedia defines Geocoding as ‘the process of finding associated geographic coordinates (often expressed as latitude and longitude) from other geographic data, such as street addresses, or zip codes (postal codes). With geographic coordinates the features can be mapped and entered into Geographic Information Systems, or the coordinates can be embedded into media such as digital photographs via geotagging’. This particular geocoding project identifies and records the location of specific aid activity at the subnational level. A team of 13 interns successfully geocoded 1,216 World Bank projects in 7 weeks defying the belief in some quarters that it would be impossible.  12,000 specific geographic locations were coded in 42 Sub-Sahara African countries, 27 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as Indonesia, and the Philippines (a selection of African wide projects were also coded). This can have a significantly positive impact on efforts to improve accountability and aid effectiveness. You can read more about the project on the AidData Blog.

This geocoding is enabling the visual tracking of aid flows and is also providing information on the kind of aid that each area receives. It is hoped that the project will go a long way towards ensuring that aid goes to those that need it most. This interesting and innovative project is a great illustration of the important role that technology and transparent information can play in helping to connect communities with donors. With 12,000 specific geographic locations already geocoded, the World Bank is now investigating the possibility of implementing standardised location reporting into future project documentation. It is also hoped that more donors will provide information and support the project in the future. Have a look at the perspectives of those involved in the project in the video below.

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