We don’t have a common language for collaboration between large software developers selling and donating their platforms to nonprofits. Enter the Nonprofit Common Data Model (CDM), originally stewarded by Microsoft as a founding creator and ongoing community sponsor. For nonprofit data, creating this language is becoming a self-organizing necessity in the same way that the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESGs) criteria are for the corporate world.
The Nonprofit CDM is a single tool, and more are needed at all levels of nonprofit technology use. But that it exists at all is revealing to the kinds of thinking necessary to help solve core issues that plague the nonprofit world. It provides an interoperability standard and data architecture (the set of tables and fields that hold your organization’s data) and starting point for large software platforms and small applications alike to ensure that they are placing, at the heart of their service to nonprofits, the need for programmatic data to have some kind of alignment across platforms. It prioritizes building transmission lines for data owned by nonprofit programmatic needs and not shareholder economy software development exclusively while inviting a community of software platform and application dialogue.
This is an opportunity to advance equity in nonprofit technology. It deepens nonprofits’ ability to choose where and how on the technology playing field they can enter and provides a standard for nonprofit data transit that can then be further refined and expanded by new participants. Yes, there will be country-specific needs, but the transmission lines still exist. Yes, it is a data architecture, which can feel like an abstraction. Still, it’s one that is supported by Open Source, adopted by large nonprofit-serving businesses such as Oracle/NetSuite and Unit4, and creating an opening (and teaching tool) for even new-to-nonprofit technology solutions to understand basic service needs for nonprofits as supported by data. In short, its existence creates opportunities for collaboration between software platforms that serve nonprofits to match the collaboration between nonprofits that takes place every day. Collaboration is how nonprofits, globally, best thrive, serve shared missions, and create a more significant impact.
Suppose the core premise of equity is not allocating the same share of the same things to everyone but rather allocating based on proportional need. In that case, CDM helps drive proportional data movement between nonprofit solutions to allow greater freedom of choice. Nonprofits using software adapted to the CDM can meet their programmatic needs with best-of-breed solutions, rather than those available only within the ecosystems (or ownership) of large software platforms. Because it exists as an Open Source architecture rather than an Open Source project based on a specific platform, it is strengthened by interdependency as more nonprofit software providers participate. This is very different from one platform simply providing API access that can (and has) shifted in availability over time, owning its own interoperability solutions to which it then provides access on its own terms to developers, or claiming that its own application, however developed, is anything more than the industry standard for its single platform ecosystem.
One factor in what will drive nonprofit efficiency isn’t repeating the same investments every 5–10 years in new large-scale software platforms but driving software platforms serving nonprofits to invest in nonprofit data as its own entity altogether. More steps are needed, and more corporations should be invited to this table. There will need to be challenging discussions regarding ownership, when and how this kind of endeavor changes and grows, and what this means for existing (or founding) participants. But it is a starting point and a reinvigoration of attempts we’ve made over the last 30 years of nonprofit technology. What’s different now is the urgency of the moment we are in and living the promise of nothing about us without us.
Download the 2020 Data Empowerment Report to learn how organizations manage data collection and security and what policies they have in place to manage them.