From Idea to Impact: How Charities Use Data

Kirsty Garshong our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 11/29/2018 9:30 AM
It’s that time of year again. As the festive season draws near and we pull together wish lists, many of us also begin to think about how we can give back. Given that the UK spent over £7 billion this Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend, it’s not surprising that the idea of Giving Tuesday is becoming more and more popular. 

But with 160,000 registered charities in the UK alone, institutions are turning to data to find new ways to stand out and make a greater impact.  Far from just running quarterly reports, charities are now utilising the insights they gain from data to inform their strategies, improve their services and plan for the future. 

IDEAS


Given that not every charity is lucky enough to go viral with an Ice Bucket Challenge style video, there is a need to find other ways to stand out in such a crowded market. As such, many are looking to the data they have collected to help create a strategy.

Macmillan Cancer Support, one the UK’s biggest charities, wanted to see more success from one of their main fundraisers, ‘The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’. The event, which sees volunteers hold coffee and cake-fuelled gatherings across the country was revolutionised by data. By engaging with their database and researching what motivated fundraisers, they refocused their marketing around how the occasion could create an opportunity for people to meet up and chat, such as swapping ‘send for your free fundraising pack’ for ‘order your free coffee morning kit’. Whilst these amends may seem superficial, they had a major impact increasing funds raised from £15m to £20m. 

Some brands have taken this idea even further, using Data & Analytics tools to engage with potential donors. Homelessness charity Cyrenians’ data told them that there were a number of misconceptions about rough sleepers, including 15% of people believing that they were homeless by choice. To counter this they created an AI chatbot, named Alex, that allowed users to ask questions they may not have been comfortable asking a real person. 

Another charity using data tools to counter common misconceptions is Dyslexia Association. Their Moment of Dyslexia campaign saw them utilise facial recognition technology; the longer a person looked at their digital poster, the more jumbled up the words and letters became. By harnessing both insights and the technology made possible by data, they were able to offer an insight into what dyslexia is like for people who previously didn’t understand. 

INDIVIDUALS


A big issue facing a number of charities is trust. Following a series of recent scandals, the public are more sceptical than ever of how charities are run, and their use of data is no exception. This ‘trust deficit’ has resulted in vast amount of potential donors staying away, with recent research highlighting that only 11% of people are willing to share their data with a charity, even if it means a better service. 

Whilst charities with effective Data Governance are able to use their vast amount of data to enhance those business, those who mismanage it are likely to suffer. Following a cyber-attack that exposed the data of over 400,000 donors, the British and Foreign Bible Society were fined £100,000. As hackers were able to enter the network by exploiting a weak password, this serves as a timely reminder that our data needs not only to be clean, but secure. 

Financial implications aside, improper data usage can also do irreversible damage to a charity’s reputation. St Mungo’s has faced criticism for passing information about migrant homeless people to the Home Office, putting them at risk of deportation. Whilst they were cleared of any wrongdoing by the ICO, this controversial use of data has had a negative impact on the charity’s image. With a decline in the number of people donating to charity overall, anything that can put people off further is bad news. 

IMPACT


Whilst there is more demand than ever for charities to share their impact data, there is also more opportunity. With Lord Gus O’Donnell urging charities to make data an ‘organisation-wide priority’, many are going beyond publishing annual reports and fully embracing a culture shift.

Youth charity Keyfund have been able to justify how the spend their funds based on their impact data. Having heard concerns from fundraisers regarding whether their leisure projects were effective they looked at the data they had gathered from the 6,000 young people they were helping. What they found was that not only were their leisure projects effective, they had an even more positive impact than their alternatives, particularly for those from the most deprived area. This allowed them to continue to support these programs and even increase funding where necessary.

Going one step further are Street League, a charity that use sports programmes to tackle youth unemployment. Rather than share their impact data in quarterly, or even annual, reports they moved to real-time reporting. Interested parties can visit an ‘Online Impact Dashboard’ and see up-to-the-minute data about how the charity’s work is impacting the lives of the people it is trying to help. This not only allows for the most relevant data to be used strategically, but also supports the business holistically, gaining donor both attention and trust.

To stand out in the charity sector institutions need to take advantage of data. Not only can this be used to generate campaigns and streamline services but, when used securely and transparently, it can help rebuild trust and offer a competitive edge. 

If you want to make the world a better place by harnessing and analysing data, we may have a role for you.

Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to see how we can help you. 

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