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Donated data and non-profits: The gift that keeps on giving

As we emerge from another tax season, non-profit reports will soon be available that illuminate the size of last year’s corporate charitable donations. If recent trends are any indication, another banner year may soon be on the books. Charitable giving has been on the rise, with $23.5 billion donated in 2017 by the world’s 300 largest companies—a 15 percent increase over 2015.

Equally impressive, the last three years have seen a 30 percent increase in non-cash giving programs, such as employee volunteer hours. Additionally, two out of three corporations gave in-kind gifts in 2017, which were comprised of donations like free advertising, airtime, public service announcements, pro bono work, and equipment.

When you consider the impact that non-cash donations can have, it’s striking that data is not included in giving trends. A huge challenge that non-profit and humanitarian organizations face today is that they are often the people closest to the problems, but they don't have enough data, timely data or the right data to address and solve these challenges.

Can you imagine the impact that corporate donations of data could have on the capabilities of these philanthropic organizations? “Big” is an understatement.

Contribute what is needed most

Data is now commonly recognized as the most important resource in the world, with widespread acknowledgment that data is an asset that carries real value. What that exact value is, we will soon discover.

The Data Economy, which represents the global supply and demand for data as an asset, is poised to introduce data exchanges where anonymized and/or aggregated data will be bought and sold in a standardized, secure, privacy-protected and governed ways. Corporations are currently working through infrastructure challenges to enable secure data exchange and monetization because they know it will soon be possible to monetize their data in these exchanges.

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Seino Holdings Co. workers pack grocery provisions for the "Kodomo Takushoku" program for the needy in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, June 15, 2018. In Bunkyo Ward in central Tokyo, a joint project between government and local groups identifies poor families and covertly provides them with some free groceries so that neighbors don't know. Photographer: Shiho Fukada/Bloomberg

With the rise of secure data sharing comes the opportunity to donate secure views of data to nonprofit organizations. Akin to employee volunteer hours or free advertising, data is a non-cash resource that can be used by nonprofit organizations to make a real difference. After all, corporations rely on data for trend analysis and data-driven decision-making. Shouldn’t nonprofits be able to do the same?

And, if that’s not reason enough, consider the difference between donating money and data. The multiplier effect of money is nonexistent: You spend it, and then it’s gone. However, when you share a secure, live copy of data that updates in real time, you provide a gift that keeps on giving. Donating data for good has the potential to be game-changing for nonprofits and humanitarian organizations.

Best of all, consumer sentiment supports sharing donation to nonprofits. In a recent survey, 61 percent of consumers indicated that sharing consumer data is not a good thing; however, when a follow-up question asked if they would look more favorably on a company that provides data without any personally identifiable information (PII), and if the use of that data would help make the world a better place, 45 percent answered yes. When asked specifically about providing their information to non-profits, 67 percent said they would provide it.

Face data challenges head-on

Corporations that want to donate their data are going to face the same challenges as those that want to monetize it. The common risk factors are security issues and privacy concerns around anonymizing data, both of which point to the need for the right infrastructure for the storage and secure interchange of data.

Exchanging live views of properly-protected data is the next big thing, and cloud-based technologies exist today that enable your organization to do so securely and anonymize data so you meet privacy policies and regulations. Even if you’re not ready to generate new streams of revenue from abstracted views of information on a data exchange, you can achieve demonstrable good by letting non-profits use that data to help improve the world.

The other risk organizations care about is losing their competitive advantage if they share data with competitors. However, this is a much lower, or non-existent, concern when it comes to donating data. By giving secure views of data to a nonprofit, you do so with the explicit agreement that it will be used only to help solve that organization’s specific challenges, without risk of further access or dissemination. This can be monitored and enforced with sophisticated, modern data exchange technology. Trust, but verify.

On the flip side, rather than worry about your competitors, why not partner with them? There’s a powerful opportunity here for industry-level cooperation to accomplish even more by bringing secure slices of information together in one place for the greater good, or to solve industry-level challenges and problems.

Technical frameworks exist today that allow data to be securely exchanged without risking competitors accessing your data, which makes it a lower risk proposition with high returns for society.

Throw up the challenge to NGOs

Chances are, many nonprofits today allocate their funding by relying on the limited information they have. Spending may not be optimized because data is missing that would help them hone in on the right issues or solutions. And who knows better than the organizations themselves what data they really need to fill in those holes?

Future data exchanges will likely provide a way to make it easy and effective for corporations to donate secure access to their data and for nonprofit organizations to select what they need. However, for now, it’s a matter of asking the question to nonprofits you already work with or those that you believe might benefit from some access to views of your data.

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