Around the Institute

Obama’s FY14 Budget Includes a Score for “Big Data”

April 15, 2013  • Cinthia Schuman Ottinger

Cinthia Schuman is deputy director for Philanthropy Programs for The Aspen Institute Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation.

The Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation reports that President Obama’s FY 2014 budget proposes to phase in required electronic filing of the Form 990—the primary tax form for nonprofits. The IRS will then release these data in a computable format, facilitating large-scale analysis and greater transparency of the nonprofit sector. This announcement came just days after the IRS revealed that it would, for the first time, release key nonprofit financial data to the public.

Both of these actions follow on the heels of PSI’s recent report, “Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data” by open data experts, Beth Simone Noveck and Daniel Goroff.

The report was released on January 31, 2013 as part of a packed Aspen Institute convening called “Liberating 990 Data for Impact: How ‘Big Data’ on the Nonprofit Sector Can Spur Innovation, Knowledge and Accountability.” The gathering included speakers such as Special Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Social Innovation—and Henry Crown Fellow— Jonathan Greenblatt, Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Darin McKeever, Editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy Stacy Palmer, and Vice President of Philanthropy and Society at the Aspen Institute and Director of PSI Jane Wales.

If “liberated” 990 data becomes law, the information could produce useful information for everyone who works with nonprofits or uses nonprofit services. The release could help average citizens do good faster by unleashing apps that give them better, more comprehensive information. It could also help individual donors understand the flow of charitable donations in their communities, answering questions like: Where are the needs the greatest and what is the best use of my contribution?

As a leader in the quest for accessible nonprofit information, PSI is gratified that its work is helping to bring about real change. PSI’s Nonprofit Data Project will continue to collaborate with partners, such as the Urban Institute, Foundation Center, GuideStar, University of Indiana, Johns Hopkins University and others, to work toward not just opening up data, but using that data for improved impact. For more on the findings of the report, watch the panel discussion below.