This week, Data Insight team leader Steve Grimes discusses the wonderful world of free data sources for fundraising analytics, and shares some of his favorite places to find useful data to add to what you’ve already got in your database. If you’re to find new donors or hidden gems in your database through analytics, try some of these sources to make your work even more insightful. ~Helen
Free data. Two words that I have an extreme affinity for, even more when paired together. And while I’m being cheeky here with my assertion, the promise of accessible data is why I continue to be an advocate for Open Data initiatives. For the unacquainted, Open Data is considered machine-readable data that is freely shared and open to anyone without significant restrictions of use. As one of the principles of Open Science, the Open Data movement is a key aspect in ensuring useful scientific information is easily accessible to the public.
In many use cases, Open Data is usually discussed within government contexts as an approach to transparency and civic collaboration. However, with non-profit work sitting in between the public sector and for-profit entities, there is utility in what Open Data can provide many of us who are working within the prospect research analytics space.
For sure, those of us who are working within prospect research analytics understand the value of external data as we do the internal data provided within our organizations. And while the prospect information our constituents provide us is core to the organizational analytics we perform, the more data points we are able to attain on our prospects, the more we are able to construct a better story of them in aggregate. And where our internal data is unable to fully provide that narrative, here is where Open Data can be of use.
Open Data in Action
To this point, some examples might be useful to establish the importance of Open Data in our work. The most widely understood example of this type of data before it was deemed inappropriate for use was the FEC political giving dataset. Leaving aside the debate on whether the dataset can be utilized within our non-profits, the FEC political giving data was once useful to not only identify individuals who may have significant wealth, it was also useful to identify the political interests of our prospects. This was important because it provided another dimension of our prospects which enhanced any predictive modeling efforts. For political advocacy organizations who had a clear vision of their program initiatives, the FEC political giving data was a boon to ensuring accurate predictions to who was likely to donate for a given political initiative if solicited.
Another use of Open Data comes in its application to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. As our industry works towards creating engagements that are inclusive and equitable with our constituents, many organizations lack data on who within their database is part of a marginalized group, a person of color (POC), or is in a minority class overall. Substantive engagement with this segment of the population is key toward any DEI journey that an organization takes on. In this case, the registrant lists of the MBE (Minority Business Enterprise), WBE (Women’s Business Enterprise) and DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) programs may prove to be useful. Because these programs are state-funded initiatives for individuals who own at least 51% of their business, the registrant lists are a powerful tool to locate financially capable individuals within an organization’s database who are part of identities that have historically been ignored by our industry for gift solicitations.
While I present this final example of using Open Data – that of location – towards environmental organizations, it could be applied to other classes of non-profits, particularly those focused on human services. There is evidence that the closer a prospect’s proximity to a charitable cause the more likely they are to give to that cause. The logic here is that when an individual is able to see, experience, or is familiar with someone who is associated with a charitable cause, the more connected they are to the cause which leads to relatively more empathy and understanding for any gift solicitation towards the cause. For environmental organizations focused on conservation, the Protected Areas Database of the United States geospatial dataset might prove useful towards that logic because the dataset can be utilized to identify all prospects who are in close vicinity to protected areas. Address information is usually the bare minimum we have on our prospects which can be geolocated to identify the distance of our prospects from the listed areas. From there, we can generate data that identifies which prospects are closest to a given protected area. The closer the prospect is to a protected area, the more likely they are to be open to gift solicitation, and should be designated as such in any prospect management workstreams.
Looking for Open Data?
If the previous examples stirred your interest in what Open Data could offer you in your efforts in analyzing your prospects, here are some places you can find datasets to explore and create your own Open Data solutions for your own organization:
data.gov: The gold standard in locating open datasets within the United States. In a addition to the federal datasets offered, the repository also contains open datasets provided by each US state. With this partnership, the repository now has over 330K datasets on all sorts of topics ranging from education, the environment, to business issues (shout out to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics that has one of the most robust open data programs in the world and a major contributor to this repository!).
datasetsearch.research.google.com: Another great place for public data is Google’s ever expanding dataset search functionality. It lacks some of the bells and whistles of other sites on this list in the way of browsing capabilities. However, if you know what you are looking for, Google’s dataset search is just as robust data.gov and offers some unique datasets like Kaggle and /r/datasets.
kaggle.com: As noted, Open Data is usually discussed within a government context, however there are repositories that provide a variety of Open Data originating from non-governmental entities and topics. Kaggle is likely the most comprehensive location for such datasets because of its popularity within the data science community. Because of this, you can find datasets focused on private companies rather than you will datasets focused with governmental matters.
/r/datasets: I have a love/hate relationship with Reddit. When Reddit communities are bad, it can be really toxic. However, when the communities are good, they can be one of the most rewarding environments to be a part of. The datasets subreddit is one such community where like-minded folks come together to share and discuss datasets that are open to the public. If you can navigate the site and are handy with the Reddit’s search function, the dataset subreddit will usually have something valuable to provide you around Open Data.