APIs For Good: Applications For Charities and Nonprofits

APIs For Good: Applications For Charities and Nonprofits

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When you think about APIs, charities and nonprofits might not be the first things that come to mind. API-as-a-product and API-first companies have, to a certain extent, changed the perception of APIs from fun side projects to legitimate product offerings.

As a result, in 2023, many conversations around APIs now focus on profit margins and pricing models. But several key tenets of API development highlight how open APIs are suitable for use in a charitable or nonprofit setting:

  • Automation of complex or time-consuming processes
  • Transparent, often cost-effective, pricing models
  • Highly scalable, based on available budget
  • Focus on security and meeting governance requirements

A wealth of free open data is available for the public sector, and ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) initiatives often involve a lot of data. As we know, effective API usage can be incredibly useful for consuming and transforming large volumes of data.

These factors make APIs an ideal tool for environments where resources, such as time and money, are limited. More often than not, given their reliance on volunteers and unpredictable fundraising, that describes charities and nonprofits perfectly.

Below we’ll look at how charities and nonprofits might use or already use APIs. We’ll examine some use cases and consider the future of API usage within this domain.

Charity Database APIs

One example of how APIs are already utilized in this area is to provide extensive data about charities, their income and spending, public grants, and so on. For example, the UK’s CharityBase provides a database, web app, and API offering information about 168,000 charities registered in England and Wales.

The CharityBase data is available via the Charity Commission for England and Wales via two websites, file downloads, and a SOAP API. The project’s aim, however, is to clean up, aggregate, and supplement that data and make it more widely accessible. As a result, developers can more easily build services for and about charities.

In the US, Every.org’s Charity API aims to do something similar with a nonprofit search API that catalogs US 501(c)(3) charities. Every.org, however, takes things even further by using APIs to power a no-fee donation infrastructure via embeddable Donate buttons. Through this function, the site has accepted more than $31 million for more than 4,000 nonprofits to date.

Use Case: Anvil and Dollar For

A story of a nonprofit effectively employing APIs comes to us via document management automation service Anvil, employed by Dollar For. Since 2019, Dollar For has helped more than 4,000 hospital patients submit financial assistance applications to help with medical debt.

One major issue faced by Dollar For is that financial assistance application forms vary from hospital to hospital, in terms of both content and layout. Using Anvil’s no-code document template editor, Dollar For created templates for various different hospital systems.

When patients provide their information to Dollar For, JSON data is provided (via Make) to Anvil. PDFs are generated using Anvil’s API and returned to Dollar For (again, via Make), where they can be reviewed by a qualified Patient Advocate.

As a result, Dollar For estimates a 55 to 80% increase in the number of patients they’ll be able to serve without needing to increase their staff levels — a game-changer for a nonprofit that’s always looking to do more with less.

It’s a compelling example with measurable results of how APIs can be used to navigate what Anvil’s Matthew Aven describes as “layers of bureaucratic hurdles…cutting through red tape and re-focusing all industries on consumer outcomes.”

APIs For Charity Fraud Prevention

Unfortunately, charities and nonprofits face an enormous risk of fraud. According to research by the Fraud Advisory Panel in 2022, 36% of all charities reported fraud or attempted fraud. In 2021, UK charities lost more than £8 million in that financial year.

Organizations like the IRS, which offers a Tax Exempt Organization Search Tool, have taken steps against fraud, but those steps aren’t always enough. The IRS tool, for example, can be a little cumbersome for a layperson to use.

CharityAPI describes their product as “the API the IRS should have built.” The API can retrieve nonprofit data, verify that charitable partners are in good standing with the IRS, and build donation apps. The API is available, quote, “as cheaply as possible,” and offers a “Free for Charities” tier.

Use Case: Fundraising with Candid

Candid, a US-based 501(c)(3) organization, offers a suite of nonprofit APIs and funding APIs. On the funding side of things, something hugely important for charities, they offer a Grants API that helps boost organizations’ fundraising potential.

Consumers can use the Grants API to leverage advanced search and filters to analyze comprehensive, up-to-the-minute insights into grants and grantmakers, funders, recipients, and funding trends.

It’s worth noting that this data doesn’t come for free, with a one-time annual payment of $6,000 to access the Grants API alone, but presumably, the assumption here is that charities will see enough of a return on that investment to make it worthwhile.

What’s really exciting here is the potential for automation inherent in using APIs. It’s easy to imagine a world in which charities could use a PDF generation service like Anvil (from the use case above) to, say, automatically populate sections of grant applications, accelerating the rate at which charities can raise funds for the future.

Are APIs The Future For Charities?

APIs have changed, and continue to change, the way we think about things like home automation, FinTech, and IoT (Internet of Things) applications. What’s interesting to see is that APIs are also making waves in seemingly unconnected areas like nonprofits. Consider the likes of Daffy, for example, whose goal is to bring charitable giving to any financial app or service.

The case studies outlined above demonstrate how powerful APIs can be for effectively streamlining processes. And we’re already seeing more businesses use APIs to work more closely with charities and nonprofits. JustGiving and eBay, for instance, both offer APIs for integrating donations into existing business processes.

We’ve only scratched the surface of the applications of APIs in charities and nonprofits above, and an interview with GlobalGiving’s Kevin Conroy goes into some others beyond verification and fundraising. He describes, for example, how GlobalGiving’s charity API has been used to combine employee engagement with supporting causes, integrate donations into online shopping, and aid disaster relief projects.

APIs continue to revolutionize how we think about all sorts of different spaces and disciplines, even those that we might not necessarily expect. For folks working in such spaces, like charities and nonprofits, there’s some serious potential and a future that’s looking very bright.