We usually think of Big Data as something for big business. If you are in finance or banking or commodities, you naturally need to mine vast amounts of data for insights into market trends. Philanthropies can also benefit from using data to track their results and monitor social conditions.
There are actually many case studies of nonprofits doing those sorts of things with their data. Keyfund, a Newcastle (UK) charity helps disadvantaged young people from the Newcastle area plan and execute various kinds of projects. Their goal is to help those young people develop key life skills like negotiation and problem solving.
Keyfund has been collecting data on 6,000 students a year for several years, plus demographic data and information on how the students are developing. This data proved highly useful in designing innovations and using resources more efficiently.
For example, students undertook a number of different projects. Without extensive amounts of data, it would be impossible to say if any type of project gives better results than others, or if a type of project could be dropped. Funders asked if leisure projects were really the best use of Keyfund’s money, but data showed that these projects were just as effective in terms of skill development as environment or business projects.
Keyfund also learned other important things about its projects. For example, leisure projects, like improving a playground, were particularly helpful for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In short, it seems clear that mining Big Data files can pay off in numerous ways for nonprofits. Organizations that lack the resources for data mining expertise or software can still benefit from looking into ways to mine their organization’s data.