Can a data-driven and data-visualized approach to understanding the breadth, range, and scope of nonprofit organizations within a community, combined with important community and individual metrics, increase opportunities for collaboration among nonprofit organizations and enhance donor knowledge of the nonprofit ecosystem?
This project was supported by a 2016 Digital Impact Grant. In the one-year grant period, we undertook and completed the three phases of work.
Phase 1: Stakeholder Input and Field Scan of Data Sources/Community Metrics
Based on a review of the existing academic and practitioner literature, we solicited additional input from a range of stakeholders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Through semi-structured interviews and conversations, we identified both the challenges they face when seeking to use data for strategic decision-making as well as the types of information they seek.
The common themes identified from the literature and stakeholder interviews were:
Based on these findings, we then identified key public data sources on both the nonprofit ecosystem and community demographics. In order to create a tool that could eventually be scalable and national, we determined that the initial data used would be sourced from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Census Bureau. The IRS data would provide in-depth insights into the nonprofit organizations while Census data (more specifically data from the American Community Survey) would provide insights into individual and household demographics. Of particular interest to this work was the newly-released open 990 data of the IRS. We believe that the prototype tools developed for this project are most likely the first online tools to integrate this new data source.
Phase 2: Data Gathering and Analysis
Using the city of Philadelphia as the use case for the project, we compiled all of the necessary IRS and Census data needed to power the prototype tools. Through this process, we gained deep insights into the challenges of using and integrating the IRS open 990 data. We identified three key issues:
Despite these challenges, we were able to utilize the IRS open 990 data and combine it with other IRS data to identify the 2,327 nonprofit organizations within the city of Philadelphia. This figure is based only on nonprofit organizations that file either the IRS Form 990 or the IRS Form 990EZ. For individual and household demographics, we compiled a range of data from the U.S. Census for all 384 census tracts within the city of Philadelphia. The core fields gathered from both data sources:
All data were reviewed for accuracy and consistency, missing data fields were corrected, and the data were compiled into two separate databases, one for nonprofit organizations and one for individual and household demographics.
Phase 3: Prototype Tool Development
Based on the stakeholder needs and the data gathered, we developed two prototype tools to assess our core research question. The first tool served as a minimum viable product to test the use of the two data types and determine the visualizations. Using just the several basic data points from each data set, we created an online interactive map that allows users to identify specific communities based on userselected characteristics and to identify the nonprofit providers in those areas. Despite using just a few key data points, this tool proved to be very effective in visualizing the data and identifying specific communities based on user interaction.
Digital Impact hosted a virtual roundtable conversation about Open 990 data, featuring project lead Neville Vakharia:
Neville Vakharia presented ImpactView Philadelphia at the Data on Purpose conference at Stanford University in February 2018.
Through the stakeholder input stage of the project, we learned that the needs of nonprofit and philanthropic sector leaders regarding data-informed decision-making were surprisingly foundational. Despite the rapid increase in the amount and availability of data, many organizations did not have the resources or capacity to use this data. While this was not unanticipated, it was helpful to understand the specific types of information that these leaders sought and how basic tools could provide better access to this data. It was also clear that these leaders wanted to make more data-informed decisions and acknowledged that they were limited in their abilities to do so.
We have proven the concepts behind our research question, and now must continue the work towards achieving our longer-term outcome of increasing opportunities for collaboration and philanthropic support within the field. This will require a multi-stage approach combining stakeholder feedback, an update of the prototype tools, and expansion of our geographic reach.
Connect with the project team: on Twitter at @NevilleVak or by email at nvakharia at drexel dot edu.