How Nonprofits Utilize Big Data

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Big data has become a centerpiece of the modern business world. The challenges, benefits, and uses of big data within the corporate sphere are already well known. But can big data be used within nonprofit organizations? If so, what effects can it have on companies that are not focused on sales and earnings? These are questions worth asking. Let’s take a look at how big data is impacting the business world and what nonprofits can do to take advantage of it.

Why Big Data?

It’s estimated that from 60 to 95 percent of all data companies collect doesn’t get used. And no wonder. Between the incomprehensible amount of information continually being generated — we collectively create approximately 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day — and the wrench that GDPR rules and other data regulations can create, trying to organize, sort, and find information can be like finding a needle in a very, very large haystack.

Of course, for-profit businesses have so many uses for big data that the decision to invest the time and money into collecting and processing it is an easy one. The costs are quickly justified by the golden nuggets that the information possesses which, in turn, can quickly yield dividends. But what about nonprofits that don’t have either the enormous budgets or bottom-line motivations that fuel the efforts of larger corporations? Is big data a factor that can help them in reaching their own goals?

While the short answer, as you may have already suspected, is yes, let’s go ahead and break down a few of the more specific factors that underline why nonprofits should be getting in on the big data game hook, line, and sinker.

It’s Only Gaining Steam

Let’s start with more of a “big picture” point: The uses for big data are only becoming more numerous. Along with other modern advancements like AI and analytics in general, big data only continues to grow in importance. If nonprofits do not begin to look into ways to wield the power of big data within their own sphere of influence, they’re going to miss the boat, just as Kodak did with the digital camera.

You Don’t Need Your Own Data to Succeed

The world is constantly working to find ways to organize data, much of which is both tailored to specific situations and available to the public. Nonprofits do not need vast internal methods of collecting and organizing big data in order to tap into its incredible potential. They can quite easily take advantage of already available sources. While this naturally limits what data they have access to, working with already existing information can ease the costs and strains of collecting and organizing the information, a task that can often be far too expensive for nonprofits, which typically operate on tighter budgets.

The Accountability Factor

One of the best ways that nonprofits can use big data on a smaller scale is for accountability. While for-profit businesses can a benefit from data by using it to inform PR efforts, nonprofits, in particular, can set themselves up for success by using it to prove their loyalty to the causes they espouse.

For example, if an organization strictly adheres to fair trade practices, dealing exclusively in goods or services that are manufactured with the health, compensation, and independence of the producer in mind, it can be an excellent demonstration of their commitment to collect and use big data as proof of their faithfulness to their ideology. This consequently bolsters their own position and authority within their field of business operations.

Big Data for Big Problems

While for-profit companies often use similar methods to optimize data for their own ends, nonprofits are often forced to travel a less common path. Often the best ways to apply big data to nonprofit causes is unique to each organization’s goals.

If a nonprofit is trying to help a developing nation, big data on birth rates, poverty levels, or pollution can help garner attention and raise funds for their efforts. Using vast amounts of statistical data and personal anecdotes, nonprofits can even track the spread of deadly diseases, effectively giving them the tools to contain deadly outbreaks in developing nations. None of the aforementioned pieces of data can have anything to do with their primary mission statement or final goals, and yet they can utilize the information for their own specific needs. In short, the creative applications of big data is a powerful tool in the hands of a nonprofit.

Wielding Big Data Within Your Nonprofit

While the reasons for using big data within a nonprofit are numerous, the fact still stands that the myriad pieces of information constantly streaming into an organization’s database can be difficult to get ahold of and use with any lasting effect. But that doesn’t mean the task is impossible. Often it simply requires a structured approach that incorporates cleaning up the data (e.g. paring it down to genuinely useful and trusted information) and creating larger networks of employees involved in the decision-making process beyond those that are tasked with handling the data itself.

The crux of the issue revolves around the decision-making point. If your IT team is the only one aware of pertinent big data that might influence a company decision, chances are the opportunity to use that information will be lost. However, if a larger umbrella of team members is incorporated into the “web of knowledge” that big data can provide, it can help positively influence decisions for nonprofits, helping them to maneuver themselves into the ever-crowded spotlight, communicate their mission statement effectively, and raise funds at unprecedented rates.

About the Author

Avery Phillips is a freelance human based out of the beautiful Treasure Valley. She loves all things in nature, especially humans. Leave a comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or comments.


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