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Charity Navigator Publishes Software for Decoding Nonprofit Data

Charity Evaluation Service Provides First Open Source Release of Code that Reads Digitized IRS Form 990 Data


Glen Rock, NJ, (February 3, 2017) – Today, Charity Navigator launched the Digitized Form 990 Decoder, an open-source collaborative project for exploring nonprofit public tax records. The offering features a database of more than 1.7 million tax records, of which over 900,000 have been processed. In addition, Charity Navigator has included detailed code, examples, and instructions for both using and extending the Decoder.

Public records are a cornerstone of transparency and oversight in the nonprofit sector. Until recently, though, studying these public records has required intensive manual review, advanced computer skills, or both. Charity Navigator aims to reduce these barriers to public record study and usage through the new Decoder.

“The Decoder is the start of a conversation,” said Dr. David Borenstein, Lead Data Scientist at Charity Navigator and the head of the project. “It’s not complete by any means. In fact, we only mapped the data that we find useful for our work. By making this version of the Form 990 Decoder open-source code, we hope to get the ball rolling on a shared understanding of these data. Furthermore, we believe other developers will build off of what we’ve started to make a more robust and complete tool for the whole community to utilize.”

Researchers have praised the effort as a major step in unlocking the power of a complex and challenging dataset. “I’ve been working with the IRS e-filer data since it was released last summer,” said Jesse Lecy, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Syracuse University. “It is a complex dataset that presents significant challenges for individual researchers. An open, collaborative effort is necessary if we are to realize the full potential of this tremendous asset. I commend Charity Navigator for taking a leading role in this effort.”

Data scientists and others will find that the Decoder’s processed records range from 33,313 2009 Form 990 filings to 215,779 2014 Form 990 filings. The Decoder, including the database and code, is free to download and distribute. Access it here: http://990.charitynavigator.org/.



About Charity Navigator
Charity Navigator is the largest expert charity evaluator in America. The organization helps guide intelligent giving by evaluating the Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency of over 8,500 charities and by providing basic data on the rest of the 1.7 million nonprofits. Charity Navigator does not charge the organizations it evaluates, ensuring unbiased evaluations, nor does it charge the public for this trusted data. As a result, Charity Navigator, a 501 (c) (3) public charity itself, depends on support from individuals, corporations and foundations that believe it provides a much-needed service to America's charitable givers. Charity Navigator, can be reached directly by telephone at (201) 818-1288, or by mail at 139 Harristown Road, Suite 101, Glen Rock, N.J., 07452.

Media Contact
Sandra Miniutti
201.818.1288 x105

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