Every Non-Profit is an Open Government Non-Profit


Often times at Sunlight the non-profit community looks at us strangely. Here in Washington, DC we’ve probably made more investments in technology than any other non-profit or advocacy organization I’ve run across. Certainly our mission is focused around the use of technology, so that makes a lot of sense– we’re focused on getting data out of government, doing interesting things with it, and letting you see what happens in Washington better. That means technology investment.

But one question I struggle with is: why doesn’t every non-profit do this? It may be a little hyperbolic, but I have a hard time figuring this out. Every single non-profit stands to benefit from OpenGovernmentDataRightNow(tm).

Doesn’t Charity Water stand to benefit from some form of data coming out of the United States government? Whether it be data from the EPA on water quality and saftey, or aid spending on water for Africa from the State Department? That data is there. It’s waiting for you to ask for it.

Wouldn’t the Leukemia and Lymphoma society do well to advocate for the opening of raw data from the department of Health and Human Services? I wonder if the Center for Disease Control tracks rabies data for the Humane Society? Wouldn’t open data help Katrina or Haiti relief organizations not only fight waste and corruption on the ground, but also make better decisions on where resources should be provided? That data’s there. It’s waiting for you to ask for it.

With the exception of increased 403(b) caps or other forms of financial tax incentives, I can’t think of a more common issue than open government data that the non-profit community stands to benefit from. Open data can help a non-profit make more informed decisions on how to allocate its very scarce resources, more effectively help those in needs, make better decisions, and drive down a whole bunch of costs.

We spend a lot of time talking about how open data can create billion dollar industries like GPS, but in the case of non-profits the gains are far more immediate and likely both to the organization’s bottom line and to increase its impact.

So if you’re working at a non-profit I invite you to think about how you stand to benefit from open government data. If you think of some ideas, you should be submitting them to the government. You should join and support our campaign too. You’ll be doing your organization a great service and making the world a better place, too.