Technology & Democracy

Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data

Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data
Aspen Institute (January 2013)

Noveck, Beth Simone and Daniel Goroff

This report addresses the challenges to obtaining better, more usable data about the nonprofit sector to match the sector’s growing importance. In 2010, there were 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States with $1.51 trillion in revenues. Through the Form 990 in its several varieties, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gathers and publishes a large amount of information about tax-exempt organizations. Over time, versions of the Form 990 have evolved that collect information on governance, investments, and other factors not directly related to an organization’s tax calculations or qualifications for tax exemption. Copies of these returns are available one at a time from the filers or from other sources. The IRS creates image files of Form 990 returns and sells compilationsof them to the subscribing public for a fee. Several institutions, particularly GuideStar, the Foundation Center, and the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) at the Urban Institute, use this IRS data to analyze and present information about individual nonprofits and about the sector as a whole.

Like other important data collected by governments, information contained in the 990s could potentially be far more useful if it were not only public but “open” data. Open data are data that are available to all, free of charge, in a standard format, published without proprietary conditions, and available online as a bulk download rather than only through single-entry lookup. Making the Form 990 data truly open in this sense would not only make it easier to use for the organizations that already process it, but would also make it useful to researchers, advocates, entrepreneurs, technologists, and nonprofits that do not have the resources to use the data in its current form. We argue that open 990 data may increase transparency for nonprofit organizations, making it easier for state and federal authorities to detect fraud, spur innovation in the nonprofit sector and, above all, help us to understand the potential value of the 990 data.

Symbolic Politics in the Information Age: The 1996 Republican Presidential Campaigns in Cyberspace

Symbolic Politics in the Information Age: The 1996 Republican Presidential Campaigns in Cyberspace
Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 17-38. doi: 10.1080/136911800359400

Klinenberg, E., and A. Perrin

This paper traces the use of the World Wide Web as a medium of political communication during the 1996 American presidential campaigns. Beginning with the Republican campaigns’ use of the medium during the primary election season, a typology of uses of the web is outlined. While all campaigns felt it necessary to participate in the World Wide Web, different candidates used the medium differently. Furthermore, no campaign made full use of the much-publicized interactive capacity of the web; they used it more as a new means of transmitting traditional mass-media literature (video, graphics, etc.) and as a way of providing access to large volumes of campaign information (voting records, speeches, position papers, etc.).

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