We are living in a different era. Today there is increased data availability and the cost of computing has never been this low. The social issues being tackled by non profits are way more complicated. The European Network Against Racism (ENAR) is fighting against the negative Impact of Islamophobia on Muslim Women. Now that’s like 3 issues in one!

Fundraising is more difficult than before – the number of non profits / charities have risen a lot in the last 20 years. (India has one NGO every 600 people and the number of registered NGOs has grown from fewer than 500 in 1992 to 3, 500 in 2002 and close to 7, 000 in 2008). Moreover, grant makers are more keen than before to see how their funds are being used and what is the impact. International donors are much more concerned about efficiency when allocating funds to NGOs relative to local donors. (Source: How do Donors Allocate Funds to NGOs? Evidence from Uganda)

Another big shift in this era? – Privacy and Data Security have become way more important. This was a point of discussion in almost every conference I attended in the last year – from New Delhi to Geneva. When you have data about all AIDS patients in a state, you have to be cautious about security and access.

So what’s the point here?

World’s leading NGOs, Charities, CSR bodies, Governments and Non Profit Organizations have cited ICT and Data Science as some of the leading drivers of their success.

Harvard Business Review says –

“The world’s biggest NGOs can’t continue to do business as usual if we’re going to tackle the world’s major social problems. By gathering data on what’s not working and adopting approaches proven to solve underlying problems, these organizations can use their enormous scale and long tradition of service to innovate and change the world.”

Here are amazing case studies from around the world, where organisations have used the power of data, analytics and technology to improve the impact and get a higher mileage of the resources.

  1. Using data, Habitat for Humanity realized that simply building houses was not sufficient to meaningfully address its mission of eliminating the housing deficit.
  2. International Organization for Migration (IOM) hosts a wonderful dashboard showing migration flows globally. It includes recent trends, transit routes, stranded, relocated, internally displaced, missing. This helps IOM and other non profits to plan their intervention with maximum efficiency.
  3. Child Rights and You (CRY) uses data analytics to streamline its donor-management process. By understanding how donors respond to different modes of communication, CRY has been able to increase their donor retention rate every year.
  4. Development Alternatives has been using technology to track people and resources. By continuously keeping track of water level in wells, it is able to predict water levels in future seasons, which empowers local communities to be well prepared for the future.
  5. Harvard University epidemiologist Caroline Buckee and her team used location data from mobile phones to understand the patterns of people moving around in Kenya and help stop malaria and other diseases from spreading.

Looking at the other side of the spectrum Inefficient management of big data costs the US healthcare industry between $100 billion and $150 billion a year in administrative costs. As per the McKinsey Global Institute, if the US health care industry were to transform its use of big data for more efficiency and quality, the sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year.


Main reasons why you should use Data Science and Technology are –

  1. Better fundraising opportunities
  2. Clarity of thought leading to increased motivation & leadership
  3. Everyone is doing what they are good at
  4. Minimal rework; Faster execution
  5. Prioritize where to spend

Timely insights, automation and privacy were never that important as it is today and traditional tools might not be enough.

Focus for non profits has moved from cost to value

All the discussion about low overheads is passe. What is really important is how much is the impact compared to the cost.

Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta in his TED talk says – Too many non profits are rewarded for how little they spend — not for what they get done. Instead of equating frugality with morality, he asks us to start rewarding charities for their big goals and big accomplishments (even if that comes with big expenses). In this bold talk, he says: Let’s change the way we think about changing the world.

In case you do not have time to go through the above 18 minute video (please watch it, you will thank me!), here is one of the key take ways.

5% overhead to get a $71 sale is any day better a 40% overhead to get a $71 million sale. Or as a matter of fact, even a $710 sale.

Non Profits Impact

Long story short, successful and smart non profits are using the power of data and technology to make a much larger impact and you should do it too.

Some possible areas of improvement are –

Fundraising – Donor acquisition & management, improving donor lifetime value, cross donation, campaign management, social media

Dashboard, Reporting and Communication – Favorite tool for a number of non profits senior management, Monitoring & Evaluation (M&E) teams. Real time insights for internal and external stakeholders. Effective marketing and communication for fundraising.

Mobile Apps – Data Collection and management tools specific to development needs

Management Information Systems (MIS) – Easy access to every bit of data. Connected to different sources. Important for taking operational, tactical and strategic decisions

Predictive analysis – Prioritize where to spend the funds and other resources. Targeted intervention, Optimum Impact. Find patterns and predict outcome.

Program Monitoring – Keep a track of your projects and programs. Automate repetitive tasks / housekeeping, increased focus on intervention

Social Return on Investment – Assess financial, social and environmental impact – calculate SROI value for the project or the organization. Helps in internal decision making and for pitching to funders

I look forward to you sharing your success stories with others, on how you used data and tech to make an impact, a much larger impact!

If any of this is new to you or you would like to know more, please post your question as a comment or write to me .

How to take non profits to the next level – and why is this the best time?
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