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Editor’s Note: This article on big data was originally written in 2018 and has been updated with current information.

There is an explosion of extremely large data sets that may be analyzed by computer to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. This is largely due to more digital traffic. According to leading business influencer Bernard Marr, “every two days we create as much data as we did from the beginning of time until 2000, and in two years the amount of digital information available will have grown from around 5 zettabytes today to 50 zettabytes.”

Think about your own digital trail. How many new digital devices did you purchase this year? How has your social media, online shopping, and GPS-enabled activity increased?

Obviously, not everyone is a fan. There are genuine concerns about privacy and security. Many people are skeptical about the use of data to analyze and predict human behavior. However, data is a trend businesses are using, and nonprofits can benefit as well.

Nonprofits and the Trend

Recently, we described emerging trends shaping the future of work. Two of these trends, artificial intelligence and machine learning, are closely tied to big data. In the past, people managed information via spreadsheets, databases, and written archives. Computers are now able to sift through data much more efficiently and reliably than people, identifying current patterns and predicting future behaviors.

Nonprofits may wonder how they can use data analytics to strategic advantage.

  1. Get to know your stakeholders better. Data tells you about the people you serve. Who is your intended audience, and are you reaching them? Use the data at your fingertips to create stakeholder personas and more smartly promote your mission to your customer.
  2. Identify and fill skills gaps. You work hard to hire and train individuals who are contributing to the mission of your organization. As the marketplace changes and your strategic objectives evolve, are the employee skills you’re acquiring and developing growing, too? Data can help you benchmark the current state of talent competencies in your organization against desired ones. It also can predict the skills you must develop in the years to come.
  3. Align mission-critical work with business goals. Your programs and services are the meat of your mission – do their outcomes support your business goals? Do metrics meet or miss their marks? Program evaluation and outcome measurement would be impossible without data. As your data warehouse grows, so do the insights about the performance of your organization, and the success of your mission overall.

How Nonprofits Can Obtain Data

Local, state, or federal government databases are the most likely to provide nonprofits with useful data. However, social entrepreneurs are increasingly using newer sources such as social media, consumer transactions, GPS data, weather, and traffic patterns. Often, if you link databases, you can gain important insights. For example, cross-referencing incarcerated parents with local school enrollment information.

Data will only get bigger in years to come, yet many nonprofit leaders dance around the topic with fear and trepidation. Is your organization’s strategic plan prioritizing big data? Do you have data analysis skills represented on your staff? We can help ensure your systems are in sync for a future of bigger data. Contact us today to learn more.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy and making decisions on how to allocate its resources (staff, budget, programs, and services) to pursue that strategy.

The strategic planning process in nonprofit organizations consists of three main components: plan development, plan execution, and plan review. This guide will take you through the process, which includes crafting organization mission, vision, and values statements; conducting a strengths, problems, opportunities, and threats (SPOT) analysis; developing a balanced scorecard with measures to track strategic goals; writing and communicating the strategic plan; and executing and reviewing the plan.

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