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Hacking Education: Open Data Unleashed

February 04, 2014

(Vlad Dubovskiy is a data scientist at DonorsChoose.org, a New York City-based nonprofit that connects individual donors to classroom projects at public schools around the country.)

Headshot_vlad_dubovskiyIt often feels like the technology revolution has bypassed the nonprofit world. While news stories featuring companies that have embraced exciting technologies such as wearable computing and delivery drones are everywhere, to those of us who work in and with nonprofits it often seems as if our sector is beyond the reach of such innovations.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, a growing number of nonprofits are taking advantage of new technology and tech tools, especially when it comes to data analysis. At DonorsChoose.org, an online charity where people donate to classroom projects posted by teachers around the country, we’ve always put a premium on data analysis as a way to understand donation patterns across geographic regions and areas of interest. The resulting insights have driven smarter decisions internally that have enabled us to exceed our fundraising goals and help more students.

Recently, we released a Giving Index that highlights a number of important trends among our donors and has helped us better respond to the needs of public school teachers around the country. The index summarizes 2013 data covering nearly 340,000 donors, $60.2 million in donations, and more than 130,000 school projects. We’ve been able to crunch and publish that data using Looker, a data discovery tool that enables us to search our data much like Google might. As the data scientist at DonorsChoose.org, I use Looker to create search parameters and models of our data — and then share those models with our operations, partnerships, and marketing teams, who use them to generate mission-critical insights.

Using Looker, we’ve uncovered some intriguing observations about how our supporters give to education projects listed on the DonorsChoose site. For instance:

  • The largest share of donations made through the site in 2013 were for classroom projects in pre-K to grade 2, with  projects in those grades receiving some $20.6 million, while grades 3 to 5 received $17.6 million, grades 6 to 8 received $10.8 million, and grades 9 to 12 received $11.4 million.
  • Fifty percent of our donors gave to projects within twenty-five miles of their own zip code.
  • STEM and literacy projects comprised the majority of donation requests as well as the majority of projects funded. Basic school supplies, including books, also were in high demand in 2013, accounting for slightly more than half (51 percent) of the projects listed on the site.

Having these data points unlocks new possibilities for improving our platform and has sparked any number of exciting ideas around the office. For example, knowing that people like to give to local projects suggests that we should focus more on campaigns that connect donors to projects in their own cities.

A tool like Looker also allows us to open our data to the public, making it possible for almost anyone to dive in and uncover new insights that can help drive support for teachers and classrooms around the country. In fact, we’re launching a new project today called Hacking Education and are calling on researchers, journalists, and people who care about public education in America to dig in to our data and help us uncover new ways to improve our education system.

Sound interesting? To learn more and/or request access to our data, visit http://data.donorschoose.org/open-data-unleashed/.

-- Vlad Dubovskiy

 

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