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From Information to Impact

May 18, 2011

Nonprofits have a lot of information. The trick is making that information useful.

When it comes to information on donors, my Penn colleague Pete Fader at the Wharton School, found that many nonprofits’ donor datasets can be far more useful than many for-profits’ customer datasets. In his recent post, Learning from Nonprofits – Being Data-Driven,  he writes,

Let’s face it: non-profits are the ugly stepchildren of the corporate world. They get scraps of advice and hand-me-down help from MBA do-gooders . . .

Yet what Pete has found in working with a number of nonprofits and for-profits as part of the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI), which he co-directs with Eric Bradlow, is that nonprofit donor datasets can rival the customer datasets of many for-profit corporations in “size, cleanliness, and usefulness”.

Their ability to pull records from these databases, combine them together to draw deeper insights and take specific actions based on these historical records is on par with (if not better than) many for-profit companies that are (or should be) just as data-driven.

For those interested in improving fundraising effectiveness, you can learn more at WCAI’s upcoming webinar: Data-Driven Donor Management taking place this Friday, May 20th.

In the end, though, the most important customers of any nonprofit are its clients—the people the nonprofit is dedicated to serve.

Understanding donors without understanding clients is like a for-profit understanding its shareholders without really knowing its customers.

So the question is, are there datasets on nonprofit outputs and outcomes that are as rich and granular as the typical dataset on inputs such as donors?

Because that’s when you can really start talking about turning information into impact.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 25, 2011 4:19 pm

    You have tackled one of the most important sets of question that are ignored by many investors. Donations although not profit driven should seek to improve the lives of people who receive the funds… this is what we can refer to as positive social responsibilty

  2. May 26, 2011 3:35 pm

    A very interesting article. I would agree that there is a great amount of data stored in non profit and government databases that rival most corporate database. There are many great semantic web projects available to help all of us share our data more efficiently and effectively. Some examples are odata and RDF. It would be nice if one day all non sensitive data were easily available via an open standard protocol.

  3. September 23, 2011 11:47 am

    It is a shame that so many people only focus their energies and thoughts on making money.
    This blog post makes a clear point at how much the human species can gain through putting its thoughts and actions towards less selfish goals.

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