Big Data, Small Communities – how data strategy is driving transformation in small and local organisations

Big data can seem like the preserve of high-end tech companies. But data strategy can help charities to drive change; even in smaller organisations.

Chrissy Chiu | 15th Jan 20
Big Data, Small Communities

Big data has been a buzz word for private sector organisations since the term was coined in the early 1990s – but the last decade has seen organisations from private to public; small and large make systematic, analytical use out of large amounts of data. For charitable organisations, data has never been more powerful and come at little, to no cost.

Data strategy can help charity digital leaders enhance service delivery, highlight industry trends, lead research, and motivate fundraising.


Jane Goodall Institute uses big data to transform impact and service delivery

The legacy of English primatology Jane Goodall has continued through the work of the Jane Goodall Institute, which helps to study and preserve the habitats of primates and encourage the growth of sustainable local communities. While the group has a long history of collecting primate behavioural patterns, the institute lacked data on the habitats, and pressingly, information on deforestation.

JDI formed a partnership with Google, to map remote areas of the forest – the collaboration has enabled villagers to compile what they know of primate areas. Using bespoke software,  JDI has determined that 2.4% of chimpanzee forest ranges have been destroyed, driving the charity to commit to preserving more forest lands. The charitable organisation also uses the Open Data Kit to increase service delivery to its primate beneficiaries.


Charity organisations lead the charge with impact headlines

Hard-hitting facts backed by strong analytical statistics have helped big-name charities motivate digital fundraising campaigns. Large swathes of data across national and international boundaries have come at nearly no, or low-cost for research-based, high impact charities.

During the winter holidays, the plight of homeless people was featured by Shelter UK – headlines from the Financial Times to the Guardian News shocked readers with hard-hitting statistics.

“Homelessness blights lives and leaves a lasting imprint of trauma, and yet 280,000 people in England are without a home this Christmas. And many are only days away from joining them,” said Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter.

Behind the statistics, the organisation used the most recent release of government data to call out the UK government to help stop homelessness.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation has helped produce reports on social injustice and poverty – studies have been picked up by leading publications helping to spread impact. The Guardian News reported JRF’s research on social media; Mirage News reported on voices from the social housing sector; and International Socialism featured JRF’s work on universal basic income, showing just how much publicity can be generated by using the right data.


> Read more: 10 sources of data to improve charity performance


Charities can use big data to enhance and drive digital fundraising efforts

Charity digital leaders can collect their own ‘big data’ for strategic, data-based optimisations – CRM systems can help increase donor contributions by around 20%.

Extracting information on supporters and existing donors can enhance digital fundraising efforts through data optimisation. DonorPerfect a cloud-based CRM system can help digital marketers refine target audiences through filtering – for example, emailing or contacting only those supporters who have not donated.

Drilling down, CRM systems can also help with charity service delivery and data analysis. Small, UK charity Spinal Research recently digitised its CRM process. Using Access ThankQ, Spinal Research UK was able to track Gift Aid donations and improve operations through automation.

“We can see the gift aid amount and sign up, allowing us to do more analysis which we weren’t able to do before due to us being such a small charity and our resources were limited. Whereas now, I am able to really interrogate the data and look at the percentage of signups from the gift aid side of things,” said Danielle Houliston, Senior Fundraising Manager.


> Read more: Hidden homelessness campaign launches