Nonprofits: Open Up Your Data, Become a Platform Organization

Nonprofit organizations are facing a similar challenge to other organizations: the old structures don't apply to this era, and the new structures are yet to be found.

Traditionally, nonprofits are closed organizations that function as a middleman between donors and beneficiaries. The organizations allocate the funds to the destinations that they decide to, and the donors support the organization, rather than a specific project. The beneficiaries and the donors are at the other ends of the chain - there is hardly any contact between those two ends.

The role of nonprofits as a middleman is changing. The donors can more often support a specific project rather than the organization as a whole. Nowadays the donors can also easily have a direct contact with the beneficiaries. For example, on a microlending platform a donor can directly lend money to a certain entrepreneur, and on crowdfunding services such as Spot.Us and KickStarter, a donor can support exactly the kind of journalism or projects he or she likes.

The crowd can organize themselves around goals, campaigns and projects even without the structures that nonprofits have traditionally provided. People don't need a middleman, a nonprofit, to create the impact they want to see.

This change poses a challenge for traditional nonprofits: how can they turn this change into their advantage?

The answer is: By turning into open platform organizations that facilitate collaboration in open spaces and radically shortening the distance between the donor and the beneficiary.
By opening up their processes - letting donors have a say where the funds go and what kind of projects are being supported.

By opening up data for anybody to use. Nonprofits have a lot of unique and interesting research data. The data could be used in several ways for many purposes, whether in academic research, or developing iPhone applications.

Do you know a success story of a traditional nonprofit that has renewed its role and structure? How about open data? Have any nonprofits anywhere in the world opened up their data?

Please share your story with me at tanja.aitamurto at

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