Digital Civil Society Lab

Nonprofit Data Governance


Networked digital data has inspired an exciting era of innovation. But the reality for most civil society organizations is that governing these resources safely, ethically and effectively is an extreme challenge. Many of the world’s leading nonprofit advocacy and research organizations focused on digital data have found they have to compromise their values in order to use digital fundraising and advocacy tools.

Research Questions

  • How can nonprofits manage and govern digital data as a resource to achieve mission, similar to financial and human resources?
  • What organizational practices allow digital participation as well as withdrawal of data donated by beneficiaries or constituents?
  • Which data governance mechanisms respect the intent of data donors?
  • What level of public oversight is necessary for open and accountable application of algorithmic and data-driven decision making tools?
  • How can the sector adjust to the ever-shifting nature of privacy incursions made possible by aggregated data from multiple sources?
  • What organizational data governance policies and practices need to be invented to include all data stakeholders?


The Lab hosted an invited group of civil society leaders at Stanford on January 10, 2017 for a day-long workshop to consider how to develop plans, guidelines, policies and resources for safe, ethical and effective digital governance of nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. The workshop participants also helped test and refine some of the data governance resources now freely available on the Digital Impact Toolkit.


Research Paper

Nonprofit Data Governance

May 2018
By Lucy Bernholz and Rob Reich