Big data is all about collecting and rapidly analyzing huge stockpiles of data to further your cause, whether it’s general support of your mission, fundraising or attracting volunteers. Vastly expanding troves of digital data, paired with newly available technology to sort through it, make this possible. For nonprofits, it boils down largely to this: How can data help my nonprofit support its mission and improve our operational efficiency?
Big data is already being used by some larger nonprofits, some of which attended the 2014 Conference for the Nonprofit Technology Network this past March.
One such nonprofit is the Ad Council, who helps nonprofits create multimedia communications on issues including preventive health, education and community. While still in the early stages of their big data strategy, they’ve begun changing the way they look at their large amount of data to help answer internal questions such as “What are we supposed to do with this information?” They started by bringing in a “data scientist,” which had everyone talking about how the Ad Council should be looking at their own data. Then, they started small (picking just a handful of data sources to analyze), involved people from across the organization, and most importantly, ensured key executive team members approved of the time and resources needed to achieve their goals.
So what can midsize and smaller nonprofits learn from the Ad Council?
- Break Barriers: Tackling big data can enable your nonprofit to break down barrier between different groups—and previously separate data sets—by getting everyone together to brainstorm and share ideas about how you can use existing information to help your nonprofit achieve more. It’s a great way to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t, and to see how you can start operating more efficiently as a whole.
- Target Donors: Once you have a big data strategy in place, you can begin to compile profiles of your donors, potential donors and volunteers. By tracking past donations, you can tailor your efforts to get the best possible response from individual donors. As data collection becomes ever more detailed, comprehensive and personal, the opportunity to get a closer, more accurate picture of the people who can help your nonprofit expands.