GuideStar International's Blog

October 2, 2012

Cross-Border Philanthropy Grows Up as U.S. Treasury and IRS Rules Reduce Barriers to International Philanthropy

By Keisha Taylor

Giving overseas can be tedious and costly given the complexity of a vast and diverse global civil society sector. Charities, NPOs, NGOs, community-based organisations, foundations, and associations all work for social benefit, but are called and categorised differently depending on country. This can create complications for funders and donors wanting to give. Knowledge of the regulatory framework, the inner workings of the NGO, how best the NGO will be able to put resources to use, and even what help is needed to build capacity is often lacking.

This is why the announcement on 24 September that the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS have recommended a significant change in the process for determining whether a foreign nongovernmental organization (NGO) meets U.S. standards for charitable giving is indeed an important one. Rules regarding the process of evaluating whether a non-U.S. NGO is equivalent to a U.S. public non-profit have not changed for 20 years.  In “Reliance Standards for Making Good Faith Determinations,” published in the Federal Register, Treasury and the IRS proposed regulations to lessen the administrative and financial burdens for U.S. grantmakers to engage in international philanthropy.

The  U.S. recently joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) to help make global development finance more open, shareable, standardized, and transparent. Similarly the proposed regulations also take us another step closer to building better and more streamlined grantmaking standards for NGOs worldwide. This can help to increase the effectiveness of cross-border philanthropy.

The U.S. has a long history of institutional philanthropy, —both corporations, government, and the American people have donated billions to causes not only in the U.S., but also overseas.  A look at the National Trust’s Chronological history of Philanthropy in America, shows that as far back as 1601, a Statute of Charitable Uses, enacted by Parliament became the cornerstone of Anglo-American law of philanthropy. The recent announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the Treasury and IRS rule changes is a milestone for global grantmaking.

Secretary Clinton Delivers Remarks at the Global Philanthropy Working Group Launch

Today the U.S. gives the most in Overseas Development Aid (ODA). While this refers to government as donor, thousands of corporations and millions of citizens have also provided money and resources overseas. However, in today’s recession stricken world, the way aid is given is being turned on its head. While the United States continues to be the largest donor by volume with net ODA flows of 30.7 US billion in 2011 (this represented a fall of -0.9% in real terms from 2010).

Governments, corporations, and citizens want to know more about the institutions they want to give to, and wish to avoid waste and corruption in foreign aid. The quantity and quality of NGO aid is not always held to account. While no two NGOs are the same, knowing more about the NGOs that receive overseas aid and its equivalence to U.S. NGOs will be a big help for accountability efforts.

Secretary Clinton noted in her remarks that the regulatory changes clear the way for the establishment of organizations that can serve as repositories for equivalency determinations. The Council of Foundations and TechSoup Global have been working together to create such a repository, called NGOsource, which they hope to launch as soon as possible. Today the equivalency determination (ED) process differs from grantmaker to grantmaker, is very costly (each ED can cost between $5,000 to $10,000) and if done improperly, may lead to inconsistent and subjective findings. NGOsource will make it easier and more affordable to evaluate whether a non-U.S. organisation is equivalent to a U.S. public charity through a centralized, streamlined, and standardized ED process.

Rebecca Masisak, co-CEO of TechSoup Global has said “Secretary Clinton’s announcement and the IRS guidance support a shared cross-sector vision of ways to reduce redundancy and lower costs and are a welcome signal from the government to grantmakers and their grantees.”
While Sheila Warren, director of NGOsource for TechSoup Global and an attorney with expertise on tax-exempt law said “The IRS guidance is an encouraging building block for the development of an equivalency determination repository that will enable private foundations to identify and grant to overseas NGOs with greater confidence and ease.”

This will undoubtedly take us one step closer to more effective cross-border philanthropy. This is especially important in today’s data-driven world where more transparent, reliable, and streamlined processes are needed to make it easier to realise social benefit globally.

You can read the entire press release on the announcement here.

Hear from experts about this issue at two upcoming events. On 4 October, the D.C. Bar will host a panel discussion in-person and via webinar. On 5 October, experts — including Sheila Warren, director of NGOsource for TechSoup Global — will discuss the rule change in a conference call briefing.

You can also receive updates about regulatory decisions affecting international grantmaking and about NGOsource by signing up online at www.ngosource.org/subscribe.

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June 27, 2012

Guardian Reports on TechSoup Global/Guardian Charity Data Seminar

Big data, open data, charity reporting and crowdsourcing were the order of the day at the recent Transforming your charity by bringing your data to life seminar that TechSoup Global hosted in collaboration with The Guardian. Today, the Guardian published an article about the seminar in their paper, titled: Getting to Grips with Big Data which gives a report of the seminar. The article focuses on why charities should start using ‘big data’ and ‘open data’ for the benefit of their communities. Also discussed were some of the difficulties charities face in knowing what tools to use, and understanding what data they should provide and collect to save money, be more effective and help the public. Videos of 2 of the speaker presentations are available (the other 2 will be posted next week) and you can find a copy of all presentations below.

Some key highlights:
Marnie Webb, Co-CEO and Paul van Haver, Director of Global Services of TechSoup Global Data Services highlighted the need for charities to help transform the way they engage with and service their community through the use of data. Watch the VIDEO! Presentation: We are “Big Data” (and so can you!)

We are “Big Data” (and so can you!)

View more PowerPoint from GuideStarintl

Dave Coplin, Director of Search, Bing, spoke about how big data is transforming how businesses are making decisions, the way it is being used for the popular Kinect, as well as the privacy issues. Watch the Video! Presentation: Big Data, Machine Learning and You

Karl Wilding of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) spoke of the work that the NCVO is doing to provide charity data and gain insights to the sector. He also spoke of the struggle to find sustainable ways to provide data openly. Presentation: Data @NCVO

Nathaniel Manning, Director of Business Development and Strategy at Ushahidi illustrated how they use crowdsourcing, big data and the opensource tools they have developed to help with disaster relief, political accountability and other development issues. Mobile phones were identified as one of the key ways that data is provided and collected in developing countries. Presentation: Ushahidi: Made in Africa

We are also hosting an international tweetchat on charities and data on Wednesday 27 June to discuss topics from the seminar on 10:00 a.m. Pacific time / 6:00 p.m. British Summer Time (BST). You can follow in our tweetchat room and comment on the article, seminar, presentations and tweetchat on twitter using #npdata.

 

January 6, 2012

International Transparency Initiative makes world giving open, shareable, standardized, transparent

By Keisha Taylor

This was originally posted on the TechSoup Global blog

The open data revolution has come to aid’ writes open data advocate Owen Barder (known for his work on development policy), and yet while the US is the world’s largest bilateral donor, Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index states that five of six US aid agencies are not very transparent. Why does this matter? Because the quality as well as the quantity of international aid is critical to the fate of the developing world (and the developed world’s as well!) and there are significant questions about whether aid is accomplishing its purposes. For example, aid may even be creating dependency rather than development in Africa, according to Dambiso Moyo’s book Dead Aid.

Thus, it is good news that the USA has now agreed to join the International Transparency Initiative (IATI) since that now means 80% of global development finance will be open, shareable, standardized, and transparent. This also complements the US foreign assistance dashboard, which is now available (but still in development).  US government agencies, partner country governments, CSOs and citizens can use it to research and track US foreign assistance investment.

IATI is the result of a conversation started among governments and bi-lateral/multilateral donors at the Paris High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, which resulted in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005. The Accra Agenda for Action was subsequently formulated to help implement the Declaration, and IATI was established in 2008 to provide support for the Agenda. But an IATI standard for publishing aid was only agreed upon in February 2011. Then, towards the end of last year, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation provided an updated framework that the world’s donors, developing country governments, CSOs, and other aid stakeholders have agreed upon.

Now that America has joined IATI, it could possibly encourage Brazil, Russia, India and China (the “BRIC countries”) and other non-governmental US donors, donor countries, and aid recipient countries to do the same. Indeed BRIC countries, while not IATI signatories, have contributed to the Busan Partnership document.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor ($30 billion annually!), US participation in the movement towards open data, which includes open aid data, may be a gamechanger but only if they really start publishing much more data. On the other hand, open data is in no way an end in itself. If it is not used — and reused — it loses impact.

In my next post, I’ll explain why.

December 29, 2011

New Portal to Promote US Giving to Indian NGOs

Consul General Peter Haas and others listening to GuideStar India CEO, Pushpa Aman Singh speaking at the Roundtable

This was first posted on the GuideStar India blog

GuideStar India and the U.S. Department of State held a “Philanthropy in India Roundtable” on December 21 in Mumbai. Over 40 leaders from the Indian philanthropy sector discussed the creation of a new online portal that will assist private donors seeking to support Indian NGOs.

GuideStar India is an existing portal of fully searchable information on over 1400 registered NGOs in India, and will serve as the platform for the new portal which is designed to connect private U.S. donors with Indian NGOs and organizations. The group agreed that such a portal should also help address two critical needs:
(1) empowering and educating donors by introducing more information and transparency into the sector; and (2) strengthening capacity-building amongst Indian NGOs.

The new portal will aggregate NGO certifications provided by independent third parties and present the information in a format easily searchable and accessible by potential donors. Neither GuideStar nor the U.S. Government will rate or certify NGOs. The portal will empower donors and allow them to make better informed decisions. Indian NGOs, intermediaries, facilitators, foundations and other organizations and individuals involved in philanthropy in India will benefit through enhanced visibility.

The roundtable participants provided input on the design of the portal to GuideStar representatives. The diverse group of leaders gathered at the roundtable reflected the shared desire of the private sector, civil society and the U.S. State Department to explore new and creative ways to support Indian NGOs.

July 26, 2011

Apps4Russia Calls for Open Data and Transparency Based Application Ideas

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 10:06
Tags:

This was originally posted on the NetSquared blog

Apps4Russia is a contest that’s been initiated by Ivan Begtin, founder of OpenGovData.ru and a member of the Open Knowledge Foundation‘s (OKF) Working Group on Open Government Data.

The contest welcomes web and application developers to create projects based on the foundation of using open government data for public benefit and nurturing more transparency in government.

It is great to see an increased engagement with data in countries around the world.  Again, we in the NGO sector need to be thinking seriously about how our data is included in these sets so that they are a part of the apps and a part of the useage and decision-making around them.

Marnie Webb, Co-CEO of TechSoup Global, Apps4Russia is looking for a few good ideas

Projects may be submitted in a variety of forms including desktop, mobile or web based application. Please note your project should not be associated with any political party or movement.

The contest offers prizes to the top three projects including a first place prize of 100 thousand rubles. Apps4Russia is already underway (having kicked off on June 30st 2011) and will run until October 1st 2011. The winning ideas selected will be announced on October 15th 2011.

Apps4Russia is a great example of what countries can achieve by calling for action through the use of open data to address local issues, encourage change and unleash solutions to common problems.

Learn more about Apps4Russia in Russian or English
Have an idea to submit? You can submit an application here

May 24, 2011

Data, Data Everywhere — But How Does It Relate to You And Your Work?

By Keisha C Taylor

As Internet and mobile access grows, more data is made open online. It is being used and analyzed by the media, the private sector, governments, and civil society organizations to inform their decisions. Open data, real time data, and linked data are being discussed in many forums. And so are the ways in which governments, civil society organizations, and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) can work with the private sector to benefit the public using the data analysis. Data-related events are highlighting the value of data and are addressing technical, design, political, reliability, validity, and inclusion issues that arise with its disclosure.

An interactive example of data visualisation - OECD Better Life Index © OECD (2011) http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org

Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, says “The ability to take data — to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it — that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, not only at the professional level but even at the educational level for elementary school kids, for high school kids, for college kids. Because now we really do have essentially free and ubiquitous data. So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.”  This post highlights some of the organizations that are involved in this type of work and points to some of the forums discussing this topic.

The European Public Sector Information Platform has a great list of open data events. And for those of you interested in open government data events, have a look at the events calendar that is being updated by the Open Knowledge Foundation. A London-based nonprofit, Open Knowledge Foundation is at the forefront of promoting open knowledge to help citizens and society.

A few of the many notable events are:

These kinds of events, however, still tend to be dominated by the technology geek, statistician, and government official though civil society organizations and other organizations involved in cultural fields are also exploring the potential of using open data. For civil society organizations on the sidelines of this data movement, the everyday media’s use of data for reporting provides a practical demonstration of just how useful it can be. (I would recommend having a look at some really cool videos featured by Stanford on Journalism in the Age of Data.) Many eyes not only provides visualizations but a forum for anyone to upload data and create visualizations and Flowing Data illustrates how designers, programmers, and statisticians are making good use of data . A few practical examples of the use of data for reporting are listed below.

These are just a few of what are arguably limitless examples how data is being used to help us understand our world. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) in London recently hosted the workshop “Civil Society 2.0: how open data will change your organisation and what you can do about it,” and the presentations have been made available online. If indeed “Data is the New Oil,” civil society organizations (CSOs) should be learning how to generate, find, and use data to help inform and improve their work. The appropriate use of data can help all CSOs to advance the overall well-being of individuals and their local communities.

March 28, 2011

Where, Why and When Should a CSO report?

By Keisha Taylor

CSOs usually report to government regulatory bodies and intergovernmental donors and institutional donors when required. In the majority of countries a lot of information about registered CSOs is held by government departments and in institutional donor databases. Information held by governments and donors is usually difficult to access, though vital to understanding development infrastructure. However, charitable organisations are now reporting a lot more via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, blurring the lines between reporting and communicating. This however, still tends to be primarily a northern phenomenon. Furthermore, if CSOs believe that reporting via social networking sites may lead to persecution they will be less likely to use them.

Where a CSO reports depends to some extent on why they report. As tax exempt organisations that are funded by the tax payer, registered CSOs are usually legally obligated to report to government departments. However, they can also voluntarily report information via other channels. When information is in the public domain anyone can access it, but finding reliable up to date information about CSOs remains problematic in many countries. Though large CSOs may tend to be more well known, most CSOs are small, voluntary organisations and many remain unregistered and unknown beyond their immediate support group. With stories like Rwanda: Report Exposes Sham NGOs circulating and increasing doubts about the effectiveness of donations, reporting has taken on renewed importance. However, many organisations do not have the resources to prioritise reporting that is not mandatory. If reporting can on some level be integrated with communications this can prove very worthwhile to a CSO.

According to the One World TrustCivil society organisations (CSOs) are facing increasing pressure to demonstrate their accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness. In response, a growing number are coming together at national, regional and international level, to define common standards and promote good practice through codes of conduct, certification schemes, reporting frameworks, directories and awards. However, CSOs, donors and other potential users are often unaware of their existence or what distinguishes one initiative from another, making it difficult for to make choices around which initiative best suits their needs”. The One World Trust created a database of all the self-regulatory initiatives (309 are listed) in existence worldwide, some government supported, others supported by independent regulatory bodies and some by umbrella organisations.  This helps to illustrate how the growth of the sector is leading CSOs and other institutions to set up bodies which aid self-regulatory reporting. Communications efforts can also weigh heavily in such reporting efforts as even awards and quality standards are used to communicate to the public about how an NGO’s performance.

Different political, social and cultural environments influence not only what CSOs report but when they report. Organisations may remain unregistered to avoid prosecution, so their reporting will be voluntary and sometimes in a risk averse manner. Reporting can prove difficult if governments tend to clamp down on civil society organisations that work against government norms, or are supported by foreign donors. The provision of a secure reporting environment within a wider enabling framework therefore increases the likelihood of CSOs reporting on a voluntary basis. Different countries have different legislation, which influence whether reports by or about CSOs should be made publicly available. Freedom of Information laws are increasing worldwide and some of them require CSO information to be made available on request.

What Should a CSO Report and How Should They Report?

What an organisation chooses to say about their work sometimes differs from what is said in private and/or mundane reports that they are obligated to file. For instance, if fundraising is an important issue, as is the case with most CSOs, this will influence what they report to the respective funder. It may include basic information as well as objectives, financial records and achievements. Reporting also depends on a country’s legal and financial systems. If some information is not mandatory a CSO may be less likely to report it. However, information from a well developed report can be extracted for use in communications materials by CSOs. The more time an NGO invests in thorough reporting the more materials can possibly be made available for communications efforts.

CSOs can report via the Internet, mobile phones, radio as well as by using traditional offline methods. Using multiple channels then allows others to report on their behalf, increasing the perceived validity of the report. The more reports are available to help validate what an organisation communicates about its work, the more confident other stakeholders will be to spread the CSO’s message. That is if they find it interesting of course! A website report can be linked to, tweeted, posted on Facebook, and possibly integrated into other communications outlets, by the CSO as well as other individuals and organisations that are interested in their work. Within this new technological environment CSOs must therefore not only communicate but report. This type of reporting also facilitates two way communications where both reports and feedback from the public and other stakeholders can also be included to aid validation. Indeed the Kiva model shows just how intertwined communications and reporting can be.

A report by the UN Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation titled Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in Mobile Use by NGOs found that “Eight-six percent of NGO employees are using mobile technology in their work. NGO representatives working on projects in Africa or Asia are more likely to be mobile technology users than their colleagues in areas with more ‘wired’ infrastructures. Ninety-nine percent of technology users characterize the impact of mobile technology as positive. Moreover, nearly a quarter describe this technology as “revolutionary” and another 31 percent say it would be difficult to do their jobs without it.” The way we communicate as well as report may indeed change, facilitated not only by social networking sites but by the mobile phone revolution and other new advances in technology.

Look out for the next post which will talk about the where, why and when of reporting!

March 10, 2011

Transparency for a Rainy Day

Filed under: Access to information,CSO reporting,Philanthropy,Transparency — guidestarinternational @ 09:41
Tags: , ,

by Benny Shlesinger, Product Manager at NPTech GuideStar Israel. Read the post in Hebrew on the NPTech blog.

In Israel demands have been made for the establishment of an investigative committee to examine the funding sources of five non-profit organizations affiliated with the Israeli political left wing, amongst them are: B’TselemAdalah, and Yesh Din. Without entering into a political debate about this story, there was one interesting part of this story that caught my attention. All of the organizations’ initial reaction was to say “We are transparent”.

The response of the organizations point to the value of transparency in the eyes of the public, and also reflects the many public debates, talk shows and articles that circulate within NPO networks. I believe that while the response of the organizations is “We are transparent”, the sub text is a bit different. These organisations have actually said “We have nothing to hide. We pride ourselves in our conduct. If our activities were offensive:

a. it is because we were not ready to reveal everything; or

b. anyone could have found information about the organisation both before and after the accusations

The organizations not only make those two statements but also say that they can prove it.

However, it is important for nonprofits to remember that such an answer cannot be given without the proper preparations. When accused not every NPO can suddenly claim – “We are transparent” since they should be exhibiting transparent behavior before hand and over time. Transparency supports the organization’s day to day work with donors, volunteers and anyone that is interested in the organization. However, when the NPO is in the middle of a public debate – there is no substitute for transparent conduct over time.

So how should NPOs prepare for the day they may become the focus of public debate?

1. Publicise reports on the organization’s website. The most inspiring example I saw of this (and for full disclosure,  I have more than just sympathy for public transparency in this case, but also for the football club behind it) is the Hapoel Tel Aviv Education and Social Project. Visit the organization’s transparency page and see for yourself. To reveal information such as salaries and protocols requires courage.
2. The GuideStar Israel website (what else?): one example of the many great transparent profiles on GuideStar Israel is that by Ofanim – for the promotion of children and young people in Israel.

There are several advantages in using GuideStar to show transparency of the organization:

a. Reliability: information presented on GuideStar Israel was obtained directly from the government and is signed by the National Registrar of Non-Profit Associations. It is not published by the NPO, but an objective “third party”. Once the NPO also publishes its information to supplement the government information, and takes full responsibility there is little room for doubt.
b. The government information is already there, even before the NPO has registered, and the information is also updated automatically.
c. Standard structure: the reader receives all the information in a standard format, which makes it easy to read and compare with different organizations.

The conclusion I arrived at following the response of these organizations is that NPOs need to better prepare in advance for the time when they will have to be accountable to the public, the regulator,  the donor or to anyone else. It is therefore desirable for an NPO to have such information available on their website and of course ensure transparency by having a well written and complete GuideStar Israel profile.

November 3, 2010

Is proactive transparency the future of the right to information?

Helen Darbishire wrote an excellent paper, commissioned by the World Bank Institute titled Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information? In it she examines a range of local and international government and civil society initiatives working to make government information ‘proactively transparent’. She looks at the benefits and challenges that that arise in doing so and her research and analysis provides significant support for the view that more information will be available in this way in the future.  She does her analysis within the framework of 4 “drivers of proactive disclosure”, which she argues governments have tended to adhere to in some form throughout history.  To summarise, these include:

1.       The public’s right to be informed about legislation and to in effect know what their rights are

2.       The use of information to hold governments to account

3.       Information as an enabler of public engagement and inclusive decision making

4.       Provision of information required to access government services

With these points in mind she reviews reports on national access to information laws and related practices in selected countries, which include Estonia, Chile, Hungary, Mexico, France, Peru, Slovenia, India, Macedonia, the UK, and the United States. She also examines International declarations, jurisprudence, and treaties, that contain transparency provisions. The treaties examined in detail include the UK’s Freedom of Information Act adopted in 2000 and entered into force in 2005, India’s 2005 Right to Information Act, Hungary’s 2005 e-FOIA, and Mexico’s Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information passed in 2002. She notes that at least 50 national constitutions and international courts have acknowledged the right of access to information as a human right but also points out that legislators are proceeding cautiously when defining what this really means.

Importantly, the author also highlights the work that key civil society organisations like Publish What You Fund, Aidinfo, the One World Trust and the International Aid Transparency Initiative are doing as they become increasingly influential in the development and enactment of freedom of information laws. However, as the author maintains it is essential that the information that people do receive is “organized and published so that it is: available, findable, relevant, comprehensible, free or low cost, and up-to-date”. Of importance will not only be the type of information being made available by the government but also whether this proactive transparency will translate into citizens, CSOs and other stakeholders also providing relevant information, which together can be utilised to help improve services and overall development effectiveness.  Read the paper Proactive Transparency: The future of the right to information?

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