A fresh look at “digital data”

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“Data” is just a fancy word for “information,” right? And “digital” is just a fancy word for information stored on, or communicated via computers. “Digital” is also a word that is being used increasingly instead of the expression “online,” as well as to describe the gap between those individuals who have access to the internet, and those who don’t (known as the “digital divide”). So, let’s take a fresh look at digital data, with a little help from our friends, shall we?

First, Adam White, a senior at The Ohio State University and our current Glenn Fellow, offers a fresh look at why “data security” is not as scary as it sounds, while sharing tips contained in a new Idealware report, “What nonprofits need to know about security: A practical guide to managing risk.”

Second, I recently had the pleasure of visiting with Lucy Bernholz, the author of Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016, to learn why nonprofits should take a fresh look at “digital data.”

JC: Lucy, you write extensively on the confluence of technology, policy, and philanthropy on your blog, philanthropy2173. A recent post mentions the launch of digitalIMPACT.io – what is it?

LB: It’s a website that we hope will offer answers to nonprofits that are asking questions such as: “What policies should we have in place now that we are collecting so much data about our clients?” The website is designed to help nonprofits and foundations use the data they collect and store on computers ethically, safely, and effectively. The site contains sample templates to help nonprofits develop policies, but also information that can help nonprofits think strategically about data and make sure that how they use data aligns with their missions.

JC: So it’s a free resource? Who is responsible for the content?

LB: The site is indeed free. It’s a collaborative effort coordinated by the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. But truly the beauty of the site is that as the content grows through the nonprofit community’s contributions, so will its usefulness to nonprofits of all sizes and shapes. We encourage nonprofits to share tools and policies that are working well for them, so that others can customize them for their own use.

JC: So what will we find on the website? (Everyone should check out: digitalIMPACT.io)

LB: The website currently has three sections. The first – digital data – provides an introduction to the nature of digital data and why it is so important to nonprofits. This section introduces three principles for nonprofits to keep in mind as they gather and store digital information – whether email addresses of beneficiaries, credit card information from donors, or photographs of program participants.

The second section – policies – presents 8 different types of organizational policies your nonprofit might need. These range from data usage policies (or “privacy policies”) for your website, to contracts you can modify when you’re hiring a consultant who will have access to your nonprofit’s data. Other policy examples include consent forms for videotaping speakers, and more. All of the policies on the site were created by nonprofits or foundations and are provided in template form. You can use them to see what peer organizations have developed and modify them (with your lawyer’s advice!) to fit your needs.

The third section of the site includes tools you can use in your daily work. Putting together a funding proposal and want to know what the foundation might ask about data? There’s a review checklist for that. Working with consultants who will have access to your HR or fundraising database? There are guidelines for that.

JC: Lucy, this site is a treasure trove of information. Thanks for making it available and helping us all take a fresh look at the truly daunting task of managing all the data that nonprofits collect and rely on. What’s next?

LB: Throughout 2016 we’ll be leading workshops and speaking about the website to make sure people know about it, but also to listen to nonprofits so we can make the site even better. You can contact us with questions, suggestions, or submit materials, by sending an email to: info@digitalimpact.io.

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