Nonprofit Organizations

New in SSIR: Unlocking the Potential of Open 990 Data

September 8, 2022  • Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation

New in SSIR: Unlocking the Potential of Open 990 Data

The Program on Philanthropy & Social Innovation (PSI) at the Aspen Institute is pleased to share a new article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), Unlocking the Potential of Open 990 Data. In the article, authors Cinthia Schuman Ottinger of PSI and Jeff Williams of the Dorothy Johnson Center for Philanthropy build on PSI’s work to generate new knowledge and increase transparency in the nonprofit sector.

As the IRS completes its rollout of the new open data law championed by the Aspen Institute and its partners — which mandates 990 e-filing and the release of machine-readable 990 data to the public for free — it’s now feasible to analyze nonprofit financial, governance and other key data at a scale and speed never seen before.

As a result, there’s an explosion of nonprofits, journalists, charity regulators and scholars mining 990s in new and innovative ways:

  • using natural language processing to study what works in fundraising;
  • applying data analysis to identify charitable fraud more systematically;
  • scouring thousands of foundation tax forms to reveal giving trends in areas such as the arts and sciences; and,
  • producing information related to current events, such as the uncovering of Russian oligarch support for U.S. cultural institutions.

Yet challenges remain. The SSIR article recommends action steps to address them.

For example, the sheer size of the 990 data suggests that the social sector should collaborate to create a more efficient, comprehensive and user-friendly data ecosystem. The government also needs to recognize that a sector that employs more people than the manufacturing industry requires the kind of timely data that other industries receive.

Nonprofits are at the heart of our communities and our democracy. The insights that open Form 990 data generate will help strengthen the sector’s health, resilience and effectiveness.

Access the article on SSIR’s website: Unlocking the Potential of Open 990 Data

Access PSI’s original report on open Form 990 data, tools, use cases, and resources: Stories From the Frontier: Breakthroughs, Challenges, and Recommendations from the First Five Years of Open 990 Data

For more information, contact Cinthia Schuman Ottinger at [email protected].