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Foundations and Transparency in the World of Open Data

Field Notes, MFG Archive

In our latest from the field, we take a look at GuideStar's post on the importance of transparency for foundations in the world of open data.


Reports of yet another fraudulent celebrity foundation have hit the news recently,this time for former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle’s Jared Foundation. Fogle claimed the foundation, founded in 2004, would distribute $2 million in grants to schools and community organizations to help fight obesity, which Fogle overcame after losing 245 pounds from eating Subway subs. According to USA Today, the foundation has not issued a single grant out of the originally proposed amount. In fact, multiple reports claim that the foundation spent barely a fraction of the money it collected toward Fogle’s original mission. Additionally, according to IRS records from 2009 to 2013, 26 percent of the Jared Foundation’s money remains unaccounted for, says CBS News.


Two key factors will indicate what’s to come from reports of questionable behavior at yet another celebrity foundation—time and data. While we can’t speed up time, with access to GuideStar Premium Search—an easy-to-use research tool that makes benchmarking, analysis, and aggregation of nonprofit information a cinch—financial statistics such as the Jared Foundation’s are ready and available for the public and reporters alike. GuideStar Premium Search makes it easy to search for organizational information and review statistics, including programmatic services, revenues and expenses, professional fundraising expenses, and more. Every year, GuideStar Premium Search helps hundreds of reporters, charitable donors, and nonprofits alike find the information they need before making their donation, benchmarking, or investigative decisions with real-time information provided in a customized, user-friendly package. Which begs the question …


What good is data if they’re not accessible?


This is what bipartisan supporters of The Financial Transparency Act, H.R. 2477 hoped to answer when they introduced this bill to the U.S. House of Representatives last May. This bill directs all eight major U.S. financial regulatory agencies, including the Federal Reserve, FDIC, Securities & Exchange Commission, to adopt “consistent data standards for all of the information they collect from industry.”

‘In our nonprofit sector’s mission-driven, impact-focused community of organizations striving to make this world a better place, there is a world of data just waiting to be discovered.’

As summarized by the Data Transparency Coalition, the bill proposes that the collected data must be electronically based, meaning that agencies must make this information available online as open data—electronically searchable, downloadable in bulk, and without license restrictions (for information existing laws already required to be published).


This bill has the potential to transform financial regulatory reporting as we know it—it would help streamline the process and make filing more transparent, useful, and efficient for everyone who uses the information these documents contain.


GuideStar has this same dream of transformation for the nonprofit sector. As of July 2015, more than 1.5 million nonprofits were registered with the IRS as tax exempt, not including the thousands of other public schools and houses of worship not required to register. Each one of those organizations has a story to tell that’s hidden inside of its GuideStar data. While 99.94 percent of our users access our basic information for free, with GuideStar Premium Search, you get full access to GuideStar’s 2.5 billion pieces of data on more than 2.4 million organizations—all to help you unlock that unique story.


In our nonprofit sector’s mission-driven, impact-focused community of organizations striving to make this world a better place, there is a world of data just waiting to be discovered. So come explore.


Many thanks to GuideStar USA for this blogpost, which was originally featured on the GuideStar blog.


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