Big data’s big social impact

Carol Morris explores the big challenges charities face in harnessing data to drive donations – most notably a lack of skills and resources.

Using and analysing large data sets, or so-called ‘big data’, is vital to stay competitive in marketing any business.

Our charity partners are increasingly looking to data to help them build fundraising campaigns and build scale to reach more disadvantaged young people.

The 43 organisations we work with tend to be smaller charities that run highly effective programs, but operate with small teams and very lean budgets. While they are exceptional at what they do best – changing young lives and giving them hope – several barriers prohibit them from using and analysing donor data to its full potential.

Karl Wilding, director of public policy at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in the UK, says, “Data is the new fuel for social change. Money is one of the things we need, but it is not the only thing. Data will sit alongside money as a way of achieving better outcomes.”

Data’s capacity to provide valuable insights and efficiencies for charities is big. But what is also big is the skills gap, in understanding and being able to harness the wealth of data available to those charities.

If we want to help the not-for-profit sector take advantage of the opportunities data presents, we need to strengthen its capability to work with data.

The term ‘big data’ in itself is inherently daunting. But this doesn’t always mean huge and complex. There are loads of digital fundraising, data management and CRM (customer relationship management) platforms on the market, but if we really look at what they all have in common they rely heavily on intelligent data analysis to extract value.

The key to successful fundraising is for our charities to truly understand the people they are asking for money – developing an informed view of donors, which should in turn inform the message and format of any fundraising appeal.

So what are some of the things our charities need to think about when analysing data?

Identifying a simple donor journey can be useful when reviewing methods, messages and timings of supporter communications.

Recency, frequency and value are also good places to start. All very common words if you’re a marketing professional. But perhaps not so much when you’ve spent your career as a social worker at the coalface assisting homeless teenagers.

Data analysis can track who donated in the past, the amount and how much they gave. This can help charities understand giving patterns, where and why income is increasing or dropping off. The ability to map incoming money is vital for our charities. Margo Ward is CEO of KidsXpress, an expressive therapy program that exists to ensure no childhood is lost to severe trauma.

“Gratitude is one of our guiding principles at KidsXpress and we’re using data to get better at thanking each and every one of our donors,” says Ward.

She explains that often the charity receives one-off bequests from anonymous individuals, which is absolutely fantastic – but charities can’t rely solely on occasional generosity, because they still need to operate effectively as businesses, with visibility into their ongoing revenue streams.

“We’re conducting research and we’ve recently adopted a full CRM system to better understand KidsXpress’ supporters and their motivations. We’re working to establish long-term relationships with our donors and our community,” says Ward.

“We need to be using data to encourage ongoing regular contributions and workplace giving – in addition to those incredible one-off donations – because this allows us to forward plan financially,” she adds.

And once donors have been better understood – and that insight has been used for marketing purposes – then there’s the media analysis side of things to contend with.

The support our industry provides through donated media packages is phenomenal. In some instances, we pass these media packages on to our charity partners. However, being able to fully realise the potential of a donated media package also requires a specialised skill set.

Free media is all very well – but how do you then analyse and measure its impact without a media or marketing skill set?

This is one of the areas of need we’re addressing through our UnLtd mentor program. One of our active mentors, Eloise Lloyd, comes from a media sales background. She’s worked across radio, TV and digital, and her role as a marketing mentor to Camp Quality (an incredible charity that works with kids living with cancer) is to analyse and optimise their media placements.

Camp Quality doesn’t have a media agency. It invests in producing creative and then goes about sourcing reduced or FOC (free of charge) media placements to run these campaigns.

Lloyd helps them out on a regular basis by getting performance results from the media owners and running reports on their reach, frequency and interactions for Camp Quality. It now has a group mentoring arrangement whereby Lloyd has regular sessions with the Camp Quality marketing team, providing valuable media-side strategic advice and education on how they’re executing campaigns.

In the not-for-profit world, it’s crucial to show that what you are doing works. But it is not only about supporting your work with evidence; it is also about finding out how to do things more effectively and how to do more with the often limited resources you have.

Charities have a duty to be as effective as possible. It is easy to keep on doing things you do simply because that’s what you’ve always done. Data allows you to see if that is the right thing to do.

UnLtd’s belief is that access to the right professionals – to help charities make data decisions and harness data and make it work for them – is game-changing, when coupled with funding to invest in the right

CRM and data management tools to achieve the most valuable outcomes.

We recently ran a course with the IAB aimed at up-skilling our 43 charities on data management and digital best practice. Training days like these are often valued at around $1500 per person. But thanks to industry experts from Facebook/Instagram, Zuni, Big Mobile, Indago Digital, Sizmek and the IAB – who volunteered their time to impart their digital knowledge to our charities – we were able to offer it to them at no charge.

It’s education and opportunities like these that are going to help our charities better explore and visualise data for great causes.

Over 680,000 young people in Australia are considered to be disadvantaged as a result of abuse, neglect, homelessness, illness, trauma and grief. With a reported 76% increase in child-related AVOs (apprehended violence orders) this year, there is a lot that needs to be done to ensure these young people find the support they need.

As a society, and as a community of marketers that wield enormous power to make change, these statistics are not acceptable.

As marketers, we often take our data analysis skills and access to sophisticated reporting and third party measurement tools for granted.

Big data has captured the minds and attention of marketers who want to truly understand the hearts and minds of consumers. We want to continue this work in the not-for-profit sector to support our charities in our mission to undo youth disadvantage, for good.

That work all starts with data… and the ability to capture, analyse and act on it, for good.


Carol Morris is general manager at UnLtd.


Marketing is proud to have UnLtd as its not-for-profit content partner. UnLtd is the only not-for-profit philanthropic foundation representing the media, marketing and advertising community, and aims to harness the wealth, talent and influence of the industry, and channel this to support the most creative and innovative organisations that work with at-risk young people. Visit their website to get involved.


Carol Morris
BY Carol Morris ON 2 November 2015
Carol Morris’ career has largely been in the media communications industry. She was agency manager at Merchant and Partners, general manager at UM then executive director of the MFA before joining UN LTD as general manager in early 2013.