The Nonprofit Case for a Common Data Standard

It was the height of holiday fundraising season at Transgender Law Center. We had a party to plan, mailings to get out the door, and a robust email and social media fundraising calendar to implement. Simultaneously, we were fast approaching our launch date for a new website and our transition to a new customer relationship management system (CRM). We were also promoting several petitions and action alerts. For nonprofit organizations, this perfect storm is all too common. The headaches that ensue when the many applications your time-crunched staff are using don't "talk" to each other is enough to ignite a climate of frustration and stress.

In order to shift American culture and win our campaigns for social, environmental, and racial justice, we must have the best, latest tools available, and they need to be able to sync-up. As a communications professional who often gets roped into fundraising, website design, and other various aspects of nonprofit work, I've been searching for over a decade for the perfect set of tools to handle communications, marketing, and fundraising. It doesn't exist.

Today, I am the Director of Communications at Equality Federation, and we always testing and evaluating new technology for our members. Our partners, the state-based LGBT equality groups, are using an array of tools to win local and state ballot initiatives, fundraise, and amplify the stories of LGBT people. Collectively, they've faced over 85 anti-LGBT bills so far this year. We hear the same thing from most of these groups: while there are outstanding applications that excel at what they offer -- from mobile fundraising to petitions -- the hassle of getting all the data synced, or in one place, is a time-consuming effort that impedes their ability to focus on what matters: winning equality.

These challenges are widespread in our community, so just after the 2012 election, a coalition of customers, vendors, and experts formed to address them. Since then, the effort has grown by leaps and bounds and is now known as the Open Supporter Data Interface (OSDI). It is a broad cross-section of roughly 40 progressive nonprofit customers, technology vendors, and experts who have developed a solution, and it continues to grow.

The full OSDI coalition can be found here. Our most recent members is AFSCME, the nation's largest public services employees union.

Version 1 of the Open Supporter Data Interface (OSDI) was released just a few weeks ago. OSDI provides a common format for handling the data from essential resources, including donations, events, forms, and petitions. The OSDI specification will help progressives exchange data easily between organizing technology systems, allowing for increased innovation, collaboration, and success as we take advantage of the ability to quickly and simply transfer data to exactly where we need it.

Several key players in the progressive technology provider space have made implementation commitments to support OSDI in their products, including Action Network, NGP VAN, Mobile Commons, and Share Progress.

The journey towards a fully synced progressive technology landscape has just begun, and we're going to need the power of a united community to encourage all the best providers to adopt the common format. Your organization can help by talking to your progressive technology vendors about the importance of synchronization and informing them about OSDI.
Are you a progressive organization or vendor that progressive customers depend on? You can sign up here.

Let's work together so that one day fundraising, petitioning, emailing, and all the technological aspects of our work will be headache free!