Charities can only provide people with what they need by harnessing information: big data will revolutionize how they work.

By Rama Gilaka (Dexterity Ventures Inc./Place2Give)

Big data is revolutionizing the way we understand our audiences. It is also changing the world of charities, powering innovative technology to provide valuable information to both advisors and their clients.

In the charitable space, we are focused on connecting charities with donors based on specific criteria and interests. We collect raw data from several public data sets – these data sets are the facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis. The data collected is considered very large (around 2 million North American charities), classifying it as BIG data.

For North American charities we aggregate data from a variety of sources including: the Canada Revenue Agency,, Charity Intelligence, Charity Navigator, The Fraser Institute’s Donner Award, Give Well, Global Giving, Guidestar, the IRS, Network for Good, and other third party publications. We also receive data from various social media platforms for real-time information.

Using the collected data we can help create a link between charities and donors, making it easy for donors to make impactful and informed decisions regarding social investments.

I recently read an article that perfectly describes how to approach what can be seen as a particularly daunting set of information: Thinking about your data is about more than just looking at your member or donor database, it’s about finding ways to leverage all of the data your organization gathers.

Over my years working with data analysis, I’ve learned a thing or two that everyone, analyst or not, should keep in mind when implementing big data in the charitable space.

1. Potential

Charities and donors need to be aware of the potential that relevant data sets have – not only that, but how to access these sets of data. Big data can provide insight on how charities operate and perform, thus providing both charities and donors with the ability to make informed decisions.

Unique algorithms analyze charity data and match donor giving needs. These prescriptive analyses allow users to accurately view how the charities they are interested in operate and perform, thus helping them to make an informed decision about how best to allocate their philanthropic dollars.

2. Expertise

Most charities do not have specialized analysts or research departments, as they are often small-staffed or volunteer-based. This can make it difficult for organizations to make the most of data, especially because it does require a person with an aptitude or interest in analysis.

A recent study states that the title “chief data scientist” will be the next “rock star” job title, and that the individuals who can unlock the potential of big data will be a force to be reckoned with in the job market.

3. Visualizations

The rise of data visuals like infographics and GeoTagging to represent charity data is increasing the use of big data. The ability to take information and turn it into something more than just words and numbers on a page allows users to visualize the data and internalize it, overall making it more user-friendly and accessible. Place2give uses geo tags the charities to identify the number of charities available locally and globally that serves a particular cause.

In the charitable sector, big data is enabling us to engage and improve societies all over the world. But there is a lot of important data out there that can help enhance and innovate programs and services across every industry. When made actionable, you can use big data to work more effectively towards achieving your organization’s mission.

Does your business have a ‘big data’ strategy?

Image credit: Stefan Amer via Shutterstock.