Making data skills accessible to nonprofits

person at computer with data visualization on screen

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Cloudera Foundation websiteIn April 2021, the Cloudera Foundation merged with the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation.

by Claudia Juech
Feb. 12, 2019

I hear it from nonprofits all the time. Data projects can transform their work. But…

  • We don’t know where to start.
  • It’s too hard to access the data.
  • We don’t have enough data science and engineering expertise.
  • It’s difficult to make data actionable.

After having more than 200 conversations with nonprofits in the past year, I can attest that nonprofits are hungry to use data for good but they also need ways to reliably tap into data engineering and data science skills. How can we begin to address this challenge:

  1. Reach into the private sector for those skill sets. Pro bono work and skills-based volunteering are growing year over year and are increasingly used by companies to retain and develop talent. The best-known among organizations that bring together skilled volunteers and nonprofit projects is Taproot FoundationDataKind focuses specifically on making volunteer data science capacity available. The Cloudera Foundation also draws on corporate volunteers to complement our inhouse data science and engineering expertise.
  2. Build capacity. Hiring a data scientist is not the only solution. The Foundation Center has upskilled existing staff, which has led to new product and service offerings and higher employee satisfaction. Academic institutions and data science schools also are venturing into programs that can help nonprofits build data science capacity.
  3. Create hubs. There is a growing number of data intermediaries, such as the Centre for Humanitarian Data or AidData. Nonprofits don’t have to go at it alone, and most can’t afford to. Nonprofits and their supporting organizations can pool resources to make data science expertise more accessible to their peers.

Data science continues to transform the way businesses do business. Making these skills broadly accessible to nonprofits can help them increase their impact.

Claudia Juech is the Vice President of the Data and Society program.