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Exciting news! House of Representatives passes bill requiring electronic filing of nonprofit tax returns

 Image source:  Wikimedia Commons

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Our mission of increasing the availability of data about, and for, the nonprofit sector may seem ambitious—but it’s actually quite easy to identify some key datasets that can be leveraged by the sector to increase its impact and efficiency.

The T3010 tax filing dataset, the primary dataset containing comprehensive financial and activity information on Canadian charities, is a key example. This data has been publicly available by paper or datatape since 1975—and has been transcribed and made available online or by CD-ROM on request since 2000. In 2013 this data was finally released publicly by the CRA under an open data license. T3010 records have acted as a valuable source of information about the sector for government, academic researchers, and charities themselves.  The open release of this data has put Canada on the map as a global leader in the effort to build a more transparent and information-driven nonprofit sector.

The United States is catching up. A parallel effort is being led by the Aspen Institute and their Nonprofit Data Project regarding Form 990 non-profit tax returns—which for a long time, were only available for purchase from the IRS as non-searchable images. In 2016, electronically filled Form 990s were released openly as machine-readable, searchable data by the IRS. However, a significant portion—about 40%—of 990 forms are still currently filed by paper, and at this time, data from these are not openly available.  

As such, we were excited to hear that earlier this week, the United States House of Representatives passed a bill requiring the electronic filing of Form 990 tax returns.  This bill would also require data from these forms to be released openly in a machine-readable format. The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate.

This would be a huge step forward in nonprofit transparency for the United States. We want to congratulate Cinthia Schuman Ottinger and the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project for their work in continuing to push for this reform.  We’re cheering you on from up north!

P.S. We're looking into the practice of collecting and sharing of charity tax or registration data in other countries with our colleague Elizabeth Bloodgood. Be sure to join our mailing list if you’d like updates!

Thank you Nick, and all the best!

Powered by Data recently said goodbye to our Director of Policy & Communications, Nicholas Salter. Besides wanting to wish him the best of luck, we’ve also learned a lot during this time and we wanted share some of those lessons.

Nick Salter.jpg

Nick joined Powered by Data in 2016. At that time, the initiative was still in its early days. Powered by Data was launched by Ajah in 2013 but it only become a Tides project in 2015, and Nick joined as our first full-time employee.

Almost as soon as Nick came on board, he took over leadership of our first conference, Transform the Sector, which explored the data needs and opportunities of the nonprofit sector. What started as a modest couple of half-day workshops supported by Ontario Trillium Foundation, turned into a sold-out event which strained to welcome 300 interested participants. We added Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab and Mars Discovery District as partners, and the resulting success led to what is now an ongoing popular-education and coalition-building project focused on improving ethical data sharing between the nonprofit sector and government(s).

Also under Nick’s Policy and Communications leadership, we were recognized as leaders in Canada’s Open Government community, we produced an key report on Canada's future in the international open government movement, and our director was invited to serve on the inaugural Multi-stakeholder Open Government Forum, recently established by the federal government.

 Transform the Sector Conference, February 2017

Transform the Sector Conference, February 2017

There are two things that we’ve learned from Nick that have become core to our work.

The first is an appreciation of the role of communications to our work as data experts. We thought we understood that fully, but 5 years in, we continue to be amazed at the difference between successfully executed comms plans and lacklustre ones. Comprehension is still a block for many promising initiatives, and data and technology is still often viewed with mistrust in the nonprofit sector.

Secondly, we have seen the light — and by that we mean the difference between comms serving in a supporting role, versus communications being used strategically to achieve specific organizational goals. We started our work with Nick thinking that we need to have case-studies,  newsletter, blog posts, or social media “just because” everyone else does it. We’re now converted to seeing a communication strategy as a powerful tool to achieve specific partnership development goals or to advance specific policy goals.

Nick - thanks for everything you’ve done for Powered by Data and we’re hoping that you continue to share your communication and policy expertise with the nonprofit sector for years to come.

Powered by Data is Growing! Job Posting: Communications Lead

Powered by Data is a nonprofit project on the Tides Canada shared platform. We work with charities, nonprofits, funders, and governments to help them better use, share, and learn from data. We are a leading organization in the world working on how technology and data are used by the nonprofit sector as a whole. We are focused on building coalitions of nonprofits, funders, and governments to use data and technology for public benefit. We see an opportunity to advocate collectively for specific infrastructure projects that could be true game-changers for data-enabled social impact in Canada.  

A major focus of our work is in working with diverse partners across the non-profit sector. To support that, we need help putting our thoughts to paper and then disseminating them to the right stakeholders - so we are looking to add more communications capacity to our team to help do that work.

You’re a listener, and a doer - as the Communications Lead, you’ll be responsible for the content we need to create for external audiences - the communications pieces, proposals, and research that drives our work. This looks like actively learning about complex new topics and transforming the messy ideas from our discussions into concise, clear materials that resonate with our target audiences - funders, nonprofits, and governments.

Specifically, your responsibilities will consist of:

  1. Implementing our Communications strategies - by developing and publishing content on our website, blog, Twitter, and other channels
  2. Supporting our partnership development work - by helping to write persuasive grant applications, project proposals, and relevant communications materials.
  3. Supporting our coalition-building and other projects - by drafting reports and other deliverables, as well as presentations and slide decks that quickly and effectively communicate our work and its impact

Relevant Skills & Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in relevant field preferred
  • 3-5 years experience in a role focused on writing and developing content
  • Demonstrable experience developing content tailored to specific audiences
  • Experience in the non-profit sector and/or public policy a strong asset

Location: Montreal
Working hours: Full-time
Compensation: 40-55K/year

How to Apply

Together with your resume, please forward a 1-page cover letter that includes your responses to the following questions:

  1. How do you relate to Powered by Data’s vision?
  2. What interests you most about this position?
  3. How would your skills and experiences (personal and professional) translate into success in this position?

Please send your resume and cover letter to hr@poweredbydata.org by January 22nd, 2018. If you have questions about the role, please feel free to reach out to us at the address provided above.

We are hoping to conduct interviews at the end of January. If you will not be available for some or all of that time period, please mention this in your cover letter.  The ideal start for this role is the beginning of February.

Employment Equity

We believe in the need for experience, knowledge, and guidance from marginalized and oppressed peoples within any progressively oriented organization. People with disabilities, women, Indigenous peoples, members of racialized groups and members of other historically marginalized communities are encouraged to apply. If you would like to be considered for employment equity please indicate this on your covering letter by including the statement “I would like to be considered for employment equity.” No further elaboration is necessary, but you are free to add more information if you would like. Where candidates don’t differ significantly in terms of other desired qualifications, priority will be given to those being considered for employment equity.


Transform the Sector: Call-out for short term communications contract

Earlier this year, Powered by Data hosted Canada’s first national conference on the digital data needs of the social sector.  Transform the Sector brought together 300+ people from across the country and around the world, and generated new insights on shared opportunities and challenges in this area.


Following several months of reflection and consultation, we’ve developed a new framework for understanding our role in enabling evidence-based social impact. We’ve also identified a number of high-potential interventions that have the potential to be game-changers for the social sector, dramatically increasing our capacity to accelerate social change through ethical and effective sharing of government administrative data

We see enormous opportunities for this kind of data sharing to improve our understanding of social problems, enhance service delivery, and revolutionize impact evaluation.  That being said, sharing data at this scale raises ethical questions that must be explored with direct participation of the communities that will be most directly impacted.

Over the next several months, we will be convening funders, service providers, and beneficiary advocate groups to explore the potential - as well as the risks - of sharing data in these ways.  We will host three stakeholder-specific group consultations, before bringing together representatives from each group in a cross-stakeholder roundtable.  

We are looking to hire a communications specialist on short-term contract, to help create briefing materials for these three stakeholder groups.  This contract would involve writing approximately 10 pages of text over the next two months, in collaboration with our staff.  The right candidate will have experience writing about complex issues to make them accessible and engaging for diverse audiences. They will also have demonstrated capacity to deliver high-quality work on tight deadlines - and be available to start as soon as possible.

If you’re interested, please write to us with some thoughts on how you would approach this work, and what you think you would need (time, support, resources) to deliver an outstanding final product.  We are looking to work with an experienced professional, and have budgeted $50/hr for this project - but could go above this rate for the right proposal.  Before making a decision, we will also ask candidates for a CV, references, and samples of previous work.

Questions?  Want to apply?  Get in touch: hr@poweredbydata.org

PBD goes to Italy for G7 Meetings on Big Data

Our resident PhD and all around amazing Partnership Development Director, Leslie Cheung, is headed off to Italy to participate in the I-7 Innovators’ Strategic Advisory Board on People-Centered Innovation meetings. Those meetings are being held as part of Italy's G7 Presidency. The following is the first of several blogposts Leslie will be writing to document her travels:


Getting Ready for the G7 in Italy

by Leslie Cheung


Thursday, September 21st

Always the prepared traveller, I started packing my suitcase on Monday. Since then, I have been slowly adding things that I will need for my trip to Turin (Torino to the Italians).  I have never been to Northern Italy, and in addition to looking forward to all the delicious cuisine coming my way, I am buzzing with excitement about the upcoming activities planned over the next week.  

As part of the Italian G7 Presidency, on September 25 Turin will host the first meeting of the “I-7 Innovators’ Strategic Advisory Board on People-Centered Innovation”, in which I was asked to participate and advise on one of this years core themes: Big Data.

I am proud and honoured to be part of this all-female delegation chosen to advise on the innovations and accompanying values that governments will need to proactively manage as the opportunities with Big Data grows. As a former academic, with a background in social policy and social work, I am bringing forward a perspective that focuses on the potential social impacts of big data and the role that governments and civil society actors can play in leveraging this data to improve the delivery of social services and its social outcomes.  

As one of the I-7 Innovators, I am expected to call governments to action by drawing attention to the gap between the current potential of technological advances and the actual adoption from institutional organizations. I will specifically be talking about the potential of linked administrative data that is collected by our governments at an individual level.  These data can help better evaluate and improve the outcomes of social programming in a number of domains.

I will also be speaking more specifically on two of these domains at the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organisation (ITC-ILO) in Turin on two separate panels in the days following the I-7 event.  

The first panel is part of the Academy on Social Security, where over 160 international participants will attend to learn about Big Data innovations in social protection.  The second panel is a interactive learning brown bag session about Big Data and the Future of work, as part of the Shifting Mindsets Series hosted by the ITC-ILO.  

This forces des femmes to the I-7 did not happen by accident. Women’s voices are vital to the success of any policy, but globally, our voices are often not thrust to the forefront. I commend the effort that was put into building the Canadian team, and hope that this purposeful representation will continue to extend to other often marginalised voices, including, but not limited to those of people of colour, indigenous communities, religious minorities, and queer communities.  

I am looking forward to meeting the rest of the team, and hopefully they will join me in celebrating our fierceness!

Follow along on my adventures @lesliePhD.    

Report back on the Data 4 Impact Workshop at CODS17

Our Technical Director, Jesse Bourns, recently travelled to CODS17 in Edmonton. Prior to the conference, he co-presented the Data 4 Impact Workshop. The workshop was designed to raise awareness of the value of data sharing at the organizational and sector level and to provide frameworks that would be helpful to organizations in the development of plans to enable the effective use of data.