CONNECT Project Spotlight: Mapping the Guatemalan Nonprofit Environment

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February 24, 2021
CONNECT Project Spotlight: Mapping the Guatemalan Nonprofit Environment

With more than 15,000 operating nonprofit organizations in the country, Guatemala’s nonprofit and philanthropic sector is rich and growing. Pionero Philanthropy and graduate students with the CONNECT program worked together to help put these organizations on the map-- an interactive map used to bridge the gap between donors and information seekers, strengthen research in the sector, and help facilitate collaboration among nonprofits.  

“This map is groundbreaking,” said Asia Blackwell, head researcher at Pionero Philanthropy. “It’s the first of its kind in Guatemala.”  

The Guatemala-based organization Pionero Philanthropy has been involved with the RGK Center in several ways since first connecting in the summer of 2019. The organization has worked with two CONNECT cohorts and participated as a client in Charlee Garden’s Consulting for Social Impact course in the spring 2020 semester.  

“Pionero provides the CONNECT program with a lot of thought partnership through their consistently helpful feedback,” said Alyssa Studer, CONNECT Senior Student Program Coordinator. “Not only has working with an international nonprofit allowed the CONNECT program to test out running entirely remote projects, but it’s provided students from other schools and colleges across UT, who may not otherwise have had the chance to work with an international nonprofit, a really unique opportunity.” 

Pionero Philanthropy’s mission is to “bridge the gap between grassroots Guatemalan nonprofits, donors, and information seekers around the globe in order to facilitate long-lasting and positive change.” Pionero’s work targets the disconnect between interested international donors (many from the U.S.) and Guatemalan nonprofit organizations looking for funding. Early on, they recognized that much of this gap was due to the lack of accurate data about nonprofits in the country and the difficulty of finding such information—so they began gathering the data and looking for a means to make it easily accessible for more people.  

“One of the biggest challenges was taking something with so much information and making it as user-friendly as possible,” said Harriette Rothwell, founder and director of Pionero Philanthropy.  

Guatemala is home to more than 12,000 nonprofit organizations. However, the Guatemalan government’s regulation of nonprofit organizations is different than that of the U.S. government’s. Aside from submitting financial information at a nonprofit’s formation, little to no follow-up or other documentation is required, resulting in an often-inaccurate database of nonprofits in the country. Not only did this make it difficult for the government to keep track of active nonprofits in Guatemala, but donors also lacked access to basic information such as existing organizations, types of services provided, financial information, and other evaluation measures often utilized by donors when determining causes to support.  

“Individual donors, corporations, and foundations really want to be able to put their trust in an organization,” said Blackwell. “We hope that this map will help us allow stronger relationships between nonprofits and donors.” 

After initially connecting with the RGK Center, Pionero submitted three CONNECT project proposals and were matched with two graduate fellows.  

"It was an incredible opportunity to be invited in to the CONNECT program and to be accepted as one of the partners,” said Blackwell. “We got to meet two really incredible students who gave a new perspective and a different lens, who were able to bring their own skills and talents to the organization.” 

After completing the on-the-ground work of gathering more accurate data from active nonprofit organizations in Guatemala, Pionero passed along these data sets to CONNECT fellows Ethan Tenison and Janani Ravikumar in the fall of 2019. Tenison and Ravikumar worked on the organization's theory of change and survey analysis throughout the fall 2019 semester. The following spring, Tenison stayed on with the project and took over the data analysis and visualization. 

“This project helped me to learn R, a programming language used for data analysis and visualization,” Tenison said. “It was an incredible learning experience, and I think the biggest take away for me was that I love doing this work.” Tenison recently joined the RGK Center team as the Project Manager for Data Initiatives

What resulted is an interactive map of Guatemalan nonprofit organizations called the Nonprofit Environment Explorer. Users can filter the database of more than 8,000 nonprofits by nine different filters, including organization size, tax registration status, religious affiliation, seal of excellence, funding structure, and type of nonprofit. The map also includes demographic information about areas in which the nonprofits operate, such as indigenous population rate, prevalent health problems, and poverty rate.  

“We want this to be used by nonprofits themselves so they can find other nonprofits to collaborate with,” said Rothwell. “This actually won’t just be for donors or academics, but for other nonprofits who can find organizations in a similar area, geographically or thematically, and collaborate." 

Even as they continue to add nonprofit data to the database, Pionero plans to start using the map to find new partners in rural areas.  

“There isn’t any other resource out there to do this,” said Rothwell. “The possibilities are really exciting.” 

Pionero hopes the map is used by nonprofit organizations in both Guatemala and internationally to find other organizations to collaborate with, as well as potential donors looking for Guatemalan organizations to support. Establishing a database like this will not only benefit donors and nonprofit organizations, but can also help further the field of nonprofit strategy and philanthropy research in general, and specifically surrounding the Guatemalan nonprofit sector, where research on these topics is difficult to find.  

“To think that in just one year, such a useful and professional-looking (and functioning!) tool was built out is absolutely mind-blowing,” said Studer. “It was truly something special to see all of Pionero’s and Ethan’s hard work, dedication, and fantastic collaboration pay off in such a huge way. I still can’t believe that this map will be the first of its kind in Guatemala!”  

Consecutive or multi-layered projects like the ones Pionero Philanthropy is involved in allow the organization to get involved with the RGK Center and stay involved through participation in multiple programs or courses taught by RGK Center faculty, such as Consulting for Social Impact, Linked Open Data, or Nonprofit Program Evaluation.  

“Organizations can get different, customized types of support to fit their needs at a given point in time through engaging with different RGK Center offerings,” said Studer. “Consecutive cohort participation [in the CONNECT program] allows organizations to continue working on their project challenge in a smooth and fluid way."  

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