This week, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service began openly publishing machine-readable nonprofit tax return data on Amazon Web Services. This new era of openness in philanthropy is the result of years of advocacy work, including particularly the efforts of Public.Resource.org’s Carl Malamud. Network chair Beth Simone Noveck has also been a part of the effort to open this data. In 2013, Noveck and Daniel L. Goroff published Information for Impact: Liberating Nonprofit Sector Data a paper describing the potential benefits of open 990 data, as well the mechanics of making that data open.
Noveck shared her thoughts on this week’s victory for open data with Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard:
“Nonprofit tax returns contain tremendous amounts of information about the activities of this important sector of our economy…With the raw data of nonprofit tax returns, it will become possible, for example, to see who is providing social services to whom and where and more easily spot the overlaps and gaps so that government and the social sector know where more investment is needed. It will become possible to build the tools to spot waste, fraud and abuse more easily than we can today. There’s rich and useful information, which can be visualized to help donors know more about where to give. When the sector itself has better business intelligence about its own activities, it can operate more effectively.”