How to Use Big Data for Good

Big data may seem like a big investment – hiring a team of data scientists, buying the right software, and executing new marketing strategies. But harnessing the power of data analytics is accessible – and practical – for an increasing number of cause-driven organizations and nonprofits with budgets of all sizes. Just like corporations use data analytics to market products and services to its consumers, nonprofits can use big data to showcase their cause to potential donors.

“Any organization can use data,” says Michael Taylor, a former propulsion engineer-turned-corporate strategy consultant who’s led data-analytics-based initiatives for companies such as The Home Depot, Verizon, and Disney, and now works as a course director in Full Sail University’s Business Intelligence master’s degree program. “One of the challenges for all nonprofits is to find that balance between the underlying cost of running a business and the donations that they receive, and data can help with that.”

One of the most effective ways nonprofits can use big data: to target potential donors. “When nonprofits keep business intelligence and analytics of customer interactions with fundraising efforts, they can be more strategic in who they continue to target and weed out who isn’t donating,” says Dustin Ryen, a former CRM developer at Grizzard Communications, a Glendale, California agency that assists nonprofits such as the Salvation Army and the San Diego Humane Society with fundraising and direct marketing efforts.

Ryen, a graduate of Full Sail’s Internet Marketing program, worked closely with Grizzard’s data analytics team to develop the marketing automation platform used by the agency’s nonprofit clients. “The platform allowed nonprofits to create responsive and appealing email marketing campaigns and keep track of customer databases and records,” says Ryen. “Our analytics department collected data and kept records of customer interactions with mail pieces for them.”

Grizzard is an example of how marketing agencies are using data analytics software to create a more universal tool that many nonprofits can adopt: Nonprofits can better allocate their resources by purchasing these blanketed products and services, instead of having to shell out for an entire in-house business intelligence team and a custom-made big data plan.

Beyond attracting the right pool of donors, nonprofits and cause-driven organizations can use big data to support the work they do to better affect positive change. Many research organizations are working with data scientists to create data models that can address social patterns related to poverty, crime, and other social issues. IBM, for example, recently invited data scientists to use its data analytics software to visualize patterns and findings related to real world civic issues.

From targeting the right donors to making better operational decisions internally, business intelligence professionals are eager to point out that big data can make a big difference for good.


Full Sail University’s Business Intelligence Master’s program provides students with the tools to manage, understand, and strategically utilize the wealth of data collected by modern businesses. To learn more, click here.



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