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.

 

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

Foundations & practice in data visualisation

by Keisha Taylor

As data visualisation becomes mainstream, foundations are also looking at ways to use the data that they have to visually demonstrate their impact. The European Foundation Centre (EFC), in collaboration with TechSoup, held a webinar on Foundations & practice in data visualisation (on 16th November 2011) thanks to a grant by Microsoft Community Affairs.

Cole Nussbaumer, of StorytellingwithData.com covered the basics of infographics and data visualisation concepts. She touched on some key points that not just designers but all interested in using data to communicate should consider when creating and using data visualisations.

The webinar was open to European foundations only. However, it was a great webinar and I’d suggest you look at the video online.

March 28, 2011

Reflections from GSI’s CEO on the TechSoup Global Contributor’s Summit

Filed under: civil society,ICT for Development,Philanthropy — guidestarinternational @ 10:45
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By Tinsley Goad, CEO, GuideStar International and Senior Technical Director, TechSoup Global

During the week of 14 February it seemed as if our entire world came to San Francisco.  The TechSoup Global Contributors Summit offered TSG staff the opportunity to interact with the members of TechSoup Global Network over the course of 3 days and 4 nights.  Unlike most “conferences”, the TSG Summit was very much a “user” driven event, with the entire second day’s agenda determined by participant suggestions following the first day.  Throughout the week, partners were able to interact with TSG staff, potential collaborators, each other, and a wide array of third parties to delve into some of the most pressing issues faced by the collective group.

Several key theme emerged over the course of the week.  Clearly the power and potential of the network itself was a focal point for the group.  Our reach now spans more than 35 countries, and the collective wisdom, experience, and entrepreneurial spirit in this group is extensive; and if leveraged properly can lead to amazing outcomes across the world.  For the first time a Partner Advisory Council was seated and the members are clearly very excited about the opportunity to formally influence the strategic direction of our global programs and their tactical implementation throughout the network.

Another topic of vigorous discussion was cloud computing.   As many have said, “nothing is certain save for change”, and the group seemed unanimous in accepting that the move to the cloud is both inevitable and will have a profound impact over the long term.   But, in line with the spirit of this group, many conversations involved the opportunities that cloud computing could offer.

Not surprisingly, the greatest value of the Summit was in providing our network partners and other contributors ample opportunity to connect with old friends and make many new ones.  The nature of our global reach dictates that face time is rare, and as such is ever more valuable when we do have it.   The many side-bars during the course of the day; along with more relaxed discussions over breakfast, lunch, dinner…and afterwards, were absolutely invaluable in establishing and strengthening the relationships that are not only critical to our collective success, but in fact define our lives in so many ways.

While we all came away weary from these intensive days, I know that we also arrived at our homes with renewed energy and dedication to our critical work around the world.

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!

March 10, 2011

Transparency for a Rainy Day

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Philanthropy,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 09:41
Tags: , ,

by Benny Shlesinger, Product Manager at NPTech GuideStar Israel. Read the post in Hebrew on the NPTech blog.

In Israel demands have been made for the establishment of an investigative committee to examine the funding sources of five non-profit organizations affiliated with the Israeli political left wing, amongst them are: B’TselemAdalah, and Yesh Din. Without entering into a political debate about this story, there was one interesting part of this story that caught my attention. All of the organizations’ initial reaction was to say “We are transparent”.

The response of the organizations point to the value of transparency in the eyes of the public, and also reflects the many public debates, talk shows and articles that circulate within NPO networks. I believe that while the response of the organizations is “We are transparent”, the sub text is a bit different. These organisations have actually said “We have nothing to hide. We pride ourselves in our conduct. If our activities were offensive:

a. it is because we were not ready to reveal everything; or

b. anyone could have found information about the organisation both before and after the accusations

The organizations not only make those two statements but also say that they can prove it.

However, it is important for nonprofits to remember that such an answer cannot be given without the proper preparations. When accused not every NPO can suddenly claim – “We are transparent” since they should be exhibiting transparent behavior before hand and over time. Transparency supports the organization’s day to day work with donors, volunteers and anyone that is interested in the organization. However, when the NPO is in the middle of a public debate – there is no substitute for transparent conduct over time.

So how should NPOs prepare for the day they may become the focus of public debate?

1. Publicise reports on the organization’s website. The most inspiring example I saw of this (and for full disclosure,  I have more than just sympathy for public transparency in this case, but also for the football club behind it) is the Hapoel Tel Aviv Education and Social Project. Visit the organization’s transparency page and see for yourself. To reveal information such as salaries and protocols requires courage.
2. The GuideStar Israel website (what else?): one example of the many great transparent profiles on GuideStar Israel is that by Ofanim – for the promotion of children and young people in Israel.

There are several advantages in using GuideStar to show transparency of the organization:

a. Reliability: information presented on GuideStar Israel was obtained directly from the government and is signed by the National Registrar of Non-Profit Associations. It is not published by the NPO, but an objective “third party”. Once the NPO also publishes its information to supplement the government information, and takes full responsibility there is little room for doubt.
b. The government information is already there, even before the NPO has registered, and the information is also updated automatically.
c. Standard structure: the reader receives all the information in a standard format, which makes it easy to read and compare with different organizations.

The conclusion I arrived at following the response of these organizations is that NPOs need to better prepare in advance for the time when they will have to be accountable to the public, the regulator,  the donor or to anyone else. It is therefore desirable for an NPO to have such information available on their website and of course ensure transparency by having a well written and complete GuideStar Israel profile.

January 11, 2011

The Latest GuideStar International Newsletter Now Online

Filed under: Access to information,Philanthropy — guidestarinternational @ 10:00
Tags: ,

Newsletter Editorial

In 2010, new data and information from all corners of the earth is being crowdsourced, mapped and linked. In a world of politically charged Wikileaks, proactive transparency is becoming the norm as data is increasingly made available by governments and by intergovernmental organisations like the UN, OECD and World Bank through databases like AidData, Aid Flows and UNdata.

However, there is a lot of data that is still held privately; much of it can be difficult to find, is unavailable in an Internet-friendly format and often not validated. Provision of vital technology and information, which can aid ‘The Networked Nonprofit’, may help us get access to the data and information needed not only to populate our databases but to find answers for society’s most pressing questions

We’re happy to report some important milestones on our way to this ambitious goal: We are pleased to announce that GuideStar India was launched and has been utilising a partnership model to build its database of CSOs from the ground up. Philanthropy.be, the GuideStar initiative for Belgium, has also gone live.

This edition also contains news on GuideStar International, GuideStar Israel, GuideStar Korea and TechSoup Global as well as several articles and reports on issues of relevance to the civil society sector and our work.

Read the entire Newsletter (December 2010) and find out more about our work and related news!

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