Everything You Need to Know About Data You Learned in Kindergarten

Submitted by Holly on Tue, 03/22/2011 - 9:10am

Flickr photo: Toban BlackFlickr photo: Toban Black

Kindergarten used to be less about academics and more about the socialization kids need to survive in school. Things have changed – don't get me started, my daughter is in kindergarten – but the socialization part is still there. One of the most important social skills they work on in my daughter's classroom? Sharing.

Sharing is important because a) it's just the nice thing to do and b) sharing helps build the classroom community. Sharing the book or toy gives both children the common experience that forms the classroom culture. Because they share, they can solve classroom problems together and support each other in their classwork.

Imagine if we did that in the nonprofit sector.

I don't want to get into a long diatribe about why we don't share in the nonprofit sector; lots of great posts already accurately define the problem. As an Executive Director who tries to collaborate as often as possible, I know the stumbling blocks only too well, but we can all take some small steps to do some small sharing, and start to transform our sector's culture.

Through lots of little shares, we can create a space where sharing the big stuff is easier.

Start with data. Data is one of the easiest things we can share. How many clients do you serve? Where are they located? How do they rate your organization and other service organizations in town? We already share this data regularly: we put it in documents for our funders and our annual reports, and if we're really bold, we put it up on our blog.

The problem is that the data in these formats is usually still locked away – inside a PDF, wrapped in text. It's a nice treat for the few people who get to read it, but it doesn't strengthen the sector.

When we share data in ways that other data tools can use, we get something pretty special.

Take GreatNonprofits. Several years ago, Perla Ni started GreatNonprofits to let ordinary people have their say about the nonprofits with which they interact – a Yelp for nonprofits, if you will. The idea was solid and the service is great. All alone, by itself, it's a useful and important part of the ecosystem of services that help donors make choices about the Internet.

Perla could have stopped there, but she didn't. The problem, in Perla's mind, was that the average donor would still have to spend additional time finding her site to get the information. It's an extra step that could mean the difference between making the donation, or not. So Perla reached out to the aggregator sites that serve donors and did an incredible thing.

She offered to share.

She didn't ask the other sites to link to her. She didn't offer to sell her list of users. She shared her data. Here's what they had to say about it in a press release:

Each of the sites has uniquely implemented the reviews in a way that compliments their business model and format. See, for example, the music education charity Little Kids Rock, as it appears on each of the "Star Alliance" sites:

Through data sharing, donors get a better experience no matter where they are, and the partners get a better product. Not to be trite, but it's a win/win (or #winning, if you're a Charlie Sheen fan).

Another example is the Hunger Relief Map from the Capitol Area Food Bank in Austin. Using data shared by partnering agencies, they are able to give their public a clear sense of where the need is, and how it is being met (or not) across the area they serve:

Hunger is Unacceptable MapHunger is Unacceptable Map

What can you share that just might transform the sector?