September 23, 2014


The charitable face of data: Using big data to enhance nonprofit giving

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Charity giving is a serious business, and using data to enhance giving offers considerable monetary and charitable potential - it has been estimated that global charitable giving could reach $224 billion by 2030.* To put this into perspective, The Hudson Institute's Centre For Global Prosperity estimated that worldwide philanthropy initiatives gained $56 billion in 2010.

And as the benefits of altruism are proven to have other advantages (increasing personal happiness and life satisfaction, bettering charity work and society as a whole), not-for-profit organisations (NFP) stand to do well by enhancing giving through data.

Spare some change

Big data describes data which is too voluminous, varied and rapidly generated to be managed through traditional databases. Largely unstructured (think images, GPS information, social media data), big data is created by digital devices such as smartphones, sensors or any point of sale and can be used to personally tailor marketing communications. As the population gains access to digital devices, big data is steadily growing and becoming ever-more complex to analyze and segment. However, if effectively monetized in a charity context, big data can give insight into just what makes people altruistic, when they're likely to give, where they donate and why. Harnessing big data to make small changes to the giving process can result in substantial differences in donations, because it makes charities more appealing and targets the right people. Big data insight (sought from big data providers) is largely used to raise NFP's profiles, public awareness and charity engagement, resulting in enormous potential for donations enhancement.

How can NFPs use big data to attract this attention?

The key to charity success is personalisation through big data. If NFPs can target individuals with personalised, relevant messages which appeal to their interests and lifestyles, they're more likely to evoke responses and engagement than with generic messages. Say, for example, you are a children's charity. Big data will allow you to identify and communicate with your most likely responsive targets, so you can focus on parents with young families.

After making donor targets aware of your organisation, they should be kept intrigued - again by using big data to know what they'll respond to best, then sending personalised communications (e.g., emails) to match. For example, for a wildlife charity, focusing materials about pandas on individuals who  have a specific interest in endangered species is likely to achieve a better response.

A key attraction of big data is its monetizable ability to reach the right people at the right time with the right product, message or attraction, and it's no different for NFPs. Another example of how data and personalisation can be used to benefit giving is the analysis of specific communications themselves. Using insight, we can learn exactly what angle of collateral receives best engagement and ensure that future marketing campaigns match. Often, a specific emotive focus will evoke more empathetic response and higher engagement; a series of eCasts tracking how donations have helped an individual child could boost donations more than one listing wide or generic successes.

Pushing aside the obstacles

In addition to personalisation, big data enhances charity giving by removing obstacles which prevent people from donating, ensuring that they remain interested, loyal donators. 

  • Getting the timing right. Timing has considerable impact on people's decision making. You don't want to ask people to increase donations before payday or Christmas, however well targeted your campaign. Data insight allows NFP to scope out opportunities and target the ideal moment. Payroll-giving schemes, for example, (donating throughout your employment contract) should coincide with specific points in people's lives. Changing jobs, writing wills or moving already requires people to provide financial details - so introducing targeted payroll giving schemes at such points makes charity giving simpler for the individual, and more effective.
  • Making it easy. Ease for the donator is integral to charity success. Being present at the opportune moment with the opportune message facilitates giving schemes. Schemes should also simplify long-term giving by offering options to increase future payments in line with inflation or automatically enrolling senior NFP staff (with opt-out options).
  • Loyalty and praise. Employing data to facilitate loyalty schemes (rewarding loyalty, offering personally tailored incentives and motivators) is common and supports reciprocal giving relationships. Behavioural insights have proven that gift exchange motives - the human need to give back upon receiving - are a strong contributions factor. If NFPs give loyal donators occasional thank-you motivators, they are likely to experience benefits in return. Non-financial incentives, too, can be just as effective - using data to identify and then publicly praise people who donate, say by listing them on charity websites. This has the benefit of encouraging peer or social status giving. If insight can be used to prove that large groups are donating to a cause, individuals will be more likely to donate. Peer pressure is always a strong factor in human behaviour! 

Altogether, using big data to personalise, simplify and target charity offerings to relevant individuals results in enhanced, profitable giving and is the future of charity/donator interactions - as consumers in all sectors now expect timely, personally targeted communications. Getting it right will only benefit your cause!

* Charities Aid Foundation's white paper "Future World Giving - Unlocking the Potential of Global Philanthropy" (2013)

Jed Mole is the European sales support and marketing leader for Acxiom, a leading enterprise data, analytics and 'software as a service' company. Mole is based in Acxiom's London office with responsibility for European operations. Acxiom also has offices in the United States, South America and Asia.

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