How transparent is the data on OpenCharities?

OpenCharities gathers financial data from 319,851 non-profit organisations.

However, it’s difficult to draw consistent observations from the data available. Some profiles are incomplete or out-of-date while others include a full financial breakdown.

The only figures that are disclosed across the board are the income, the total spendings and the amount of money spent on charitable activities. With this data, I was able to create a simple Many Eyes bar chart of the ten wealthiest British charities’ rough expenses.

Down the side of the chart, I can select the different charities and assess, for example, which ones spend more than they earn.

But I was more interested in looking at the detailed spending strategies of different charities in similar fields. Before starting, I had to check that the organisations I picked disclosed the same amount of information, so my visualisation could be as accurate as possible.

I chose two health-related charities, Cancer Research UK and Nuffield Health.

I created a bubble chart on Many Eyes using both charities’ spending information. Because Many Eyes lets you upload the spendings in one dataset, I was able to visualise both strategies in one graphic by selecting which charity’s finances I wanted to analyse.

It is clear that Nuffield Health spends more money on charitable activities than Cancer Research UK. But this comparison is pointless without a total sum of both charities’ spendings.

By clicking on ‘Flip’ at the top of the screen, these details appear and I was able to calculate that Nuffield Health, a non-profit organisation that still provides private healthcare, spends a larger percentage of its income on charitable activities than Cancer Research UK.

All in all, is a solid initiative – British people should be able to find out how charities are run and how their money could help.

But the website presents many obstacles. The data isn’t downloadable and I was unable to scrape the numbers from the website onto my Google Spreadsheet using the =importHTM(“URL”,”table”,N) formula.

And, even though my second chart illustrates areas of spending more successfully, ‘governance’, ‘trade’ and ‘other’ are hardly tangible areas of spending.

The website needs to break down spending details into concrete and local groups, although this does depend on the charities’ willingness to disclose more data.

But, if they accept that people are more likely to donate when they know where their money is going, charities can only benefit from greater data transparency.

Claire Gilmore (@ClaireEGilmore)

This entry was posted in Data Journalism Experiment, Data Sources, Uncategorized, Visualization Experiment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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