New curated data repository will allow users to search, access Form 990 data for free, informing research and decision-making and preventing fraud
Contact: Susana Olague
The Aspen Institute
August 22, 2023, Washington DC—Today, a partnership that includes GivingTuesday, the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI), Charity Navigator, CitizenAudit, and the Urban Institute announced that they have kicked off the building of a clearinghouse for raw, clean, and standardized US nonprofit tax data. This collaboration combines the efforts of nonprofits, scholars, charitable giving data platforms, and many others to more widely share essential information captured on the IRS Form 990.
This tax return, which nonprofits must file annually, includes data on nonprofit finances and activities, organizational and governance structures, charitable giving levels, and volunteering and employment. Improved access to data contained in these forms will improve transparency and provide a wealth of insights for nonprofit decision-making and research.
Even after the Aspen Institute spearheaded the passage of a 2019 law opening Form 990 data to the public — with help from partners such as state charity regulators, Candid, and researchers from Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy — access and ease-of-use challenges remain. A 2022 article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review outlined these challenges:
“No group regularly publishes and maintains common and comprehensive ‘grab and go’ data sets; nor is there a widely available raw data set … providing even basic trend-line information about the sector,” wrote PSI’s Deputy Director for Philanthropy Programs, Cinthia Schuman Ottinger and Jeff Williams, Director, Community Data and Research Lab, of the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy.
The partnership aims to address these concerns and other obstacles while ensuring free access to the clearinghouse. By combining and sharing work products, while avoiding duplication of efforts, the project will save the social sector both time and money. The organizations helping to construct the clearinghouse bring together extraordinary expertise.
GivingTuesday hosts the new clearinghouse as part of its world-class Data Commons, supplying high-level technical expertise and leadership. “Collaboration is critical to ensure that we, as a sector, can use data to inform decision-making and best practices,” says Woodrow Rosenbaum, Chief Data Officer at GivingTuesday. “We at the GivingTuesday Data Commons are excited to lend our experience towards creating an open, accessible repository for deeper analysis of essential 990 data.”
Charity Navigator serves as a leading voice in the partnership, lending 20+ years of expertise in analyzing the Form 990. This will help to build the business and technical requirements that shape the processes in this effort, notes Michael Thatcher, President and CEO of Charity Navigator.
CitizenAudit is a go-to source of information for nonprofits, journalists, and government. Its leader, Miguel Barbosa, notes CitizenAudit will leverage its data engineering skills and 10 years of 990 domain knowledge to build the most robust tools for the sector stakeholders.
The Urban Institute’s vast experience in this area ensures that the effort aligns with research needs and harmonizes with other data projects in the field. “The National Center for Charitable Statistics at Urban is committed to building the next generation of research infrastructure that is tailored to the needs of social scientists, journalists, and policymakers. Our goal is to minimize the time needed to go from a research question to preliminary results by standardizing the data, improving documentation, simplifying the sampling framework, and hosting a library of analytical tools tailored to the nonprofit sector. The Data Commons infrastructure will help streamline project workflow,” says Jesse Lecy, Director of the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute.
This new initiative emerges from a 2022 survey of the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Open Data Collective, a group of nonprofit researchers, nonprofit organizations, foundations, data platforms, charity regulators, journalists, and software experts that shares information and takes actions to promote open 990 data use and access. The survey received feedback from around 70 data analysts, software engineers, researchers, and others. The Collective also held meetings with a broad range of nonprofit data users. Together, the survey and meetings identified base-level and advanced requirements for the clearinghouse. These functions will be rolled out in stages that allow for regular feedback, future iterations, and upgrades.
During the first stage, Collective members that store historical 990 data will be invited to donate and upload their 990 files to the effort. The aim is to map and provide full visibility of all available data in circulation among the partners. This new, central repository of existing 990 data is already well underway thanks to generous contributions by ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer, Charity Navigator, and Candid.
Beta testing of the clearinghouse will begin in Summer 2023 by members of the Nonprofit Open Data Collective. “Regular input from users will be essential as we begin a new era in nonprofit tax data accessibility,” says Schuman Ottinger, who convenes the Collective. “This will make the 990 data universe more accessible to a growing community of donors, researchers, nonprofits, charity regulars, and more, leading to further innovation and impact in our sector.”
About the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI)
Grantmaking foundations, nonprofit organizations, social enterprises, and public-private partnerships offer lasting solutions to societal challenges. The Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI) seeks to inform and maximize the impact of these social sector actors through leadership development initiatives, convenings, and communications so that each can contribute to the good society at home and abroad.
PSI’s Nonprofit Data Project convenes and advocates to strengthen the work of nonprofits on the ground, enhance transparency, and provide critical information and knowledge to those who work for and with nonprofits. Since 2008, the project has brought together nonprofit researchers, data providers, government officials and others to assess our nation’s nonprofit data systems, build consensus and shape policy that improves access to data that can clarify the scope of the nonprofit sector and drive innovation for good. To learn more, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/psi.
About the GivingTuesday Data Commons
With over 300 organizational collaborators and 50 global data chapters, the GivingTuesday Data Commons is the largest philanthropic data collaboration ever built. The Data Commons applies the proven distributed model and collaborative culture of GivingTuesday to reimagine both the traditional research institute and the industry-based data marketplace. It is the only initiative focused on collecting and analyzing individual giving behavior of all types: monetary donations to established organizations as well as community-based donations of time, funds and goods outside the established nonprofit or NGO world. Working with partners across sectors and borders to understand the drivers and impacts of all kinds of generosity, the GivingTuesday Data Commons analyzes the effects of networks and collective action, explores giving behaviors, and uses data to inspire more giving around the world. To learn more, visit www.givingtuesday.org/data-commons.
About Charity Navigator
Charity Navigator is a 501(c)(3) organization that guides intelligent giving with the nation’s largest, most comprehensive charity evaluation tool. The organization helps donors easily identify U.S.-registered charities making a difference on the issues they care about most while helping charities better understand their donors, deliver on impact, and increase awareness and build trust. To learn more, visit www.charitynavigator.org.
CitizenAudit simplifies learning about nonprofits by providing disclosures for every charity in America and allowing you to search for any keyword inside the IRS filings (Form 990s). You can perform these searches on all nonprofits including: foundations, hospitals, universities, political groups and more. To learn more, visit www.citizenaudit.org.
About the Urban Institute
The Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization that provides data and evidence to help advance upward mobility and equity. We are a trusted source for changemakers who seek to strengthen decisionmaking, create inclusive economic growth, and improve the well-being of families and communities. The National Center for Charitable Statistics is an open data center within the Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy at Urban. To learn more, visit www.urban.org.