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Collaborative Kicks Off Form 990 Data Clearinghouse

A partnership that includes GivingTuesday, the Aspen Institute’s Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI), Charity Navigator, CitizenAudit, and the Urban Institute kicked off the building of a clearinghouse for raw, clean, and standardized 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.

The Form 990, 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.

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 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 Form 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.

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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 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 source of information for nonprofits, journalists, and the government. Its leader, Miguel Barbosa, noted CitizenAudit will leverage its data engineering skills and 10 years of Form 990 domain knowledge to build robust tools for the sector stakeholders.

“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,” Jesse Lecy, Director of the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Aspen Institute said via a statement. “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.”

This article was originally published by The NonProfit Times.