Charity Tickers

When you are thinking about investing in a public company, something you often think about is the news coverage surrounding the company. Are there insights about CEO? How is the public responding a product? How is the company responding to any issues that have surfaced about them? This information isn’t quantitative, but it often provides useful guidance.

I’ve been wondering if a similar idea could be applied to public charities. They often have the same considerations: there is robust coverage in the media of management teams, response to services, etc., and that same knowledge could be helpful to inform donors or potential donors.

In the for-profit world, this data can be crawled/aggregated using a unique, easy to read text string that works for both humans and computers: the ticker. For example, in an article about Google, you’ll might see the company name displayed as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) or just as a hyperlink with the ticker embedded. Those article get picked up and included in research sites like Yahoo! Finance. Tickers have become so ubiquitous that no one even thinks about them any more.

Why wouldn’t something like that work in the public charity world? Like public companies, there are comprehensive data sets available to make finding tickers trivial and aggregating the media mentions useful. That kind of aggregation would be helpful in providing context to any given article as well as in evaluating the organization over all.

In some cases, it may be possible to do without tickers, for example “Red Cross” is a reasonably unique phrase that may be possible to parse out of articles automatically, but most organizations don’t have that luxury. Take Open Books, for example, which could refer to my friends in River North, but could also be Open Book in Minneapolis (dedicated to literary and book arts) or Open Book Players, a performing arts organization in Maine, to name but two. Even Red Cross isn’t as unique as it at first appears: there are hundreds of regional chapter organizations (e.g. Red Cross of Greater Chicago) among other potential false matches.

If instead an article said something like “Open Books (OBOO) is doing amazing things…” that ambiguity would go away. There would be no doubt that the amazing things being done were by a Chicago-based literacy organization rather than a Maine-based theatrical one (or vice versa). For media outlets, it could result in more impressions for archival content as well as a richer user experience as well.


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