Bringing Good Data to the Charitable Sector

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At the end of March, CanadaHelps was awarded a Province Wide grant from The Ontario Trillium Foundation, an Agency of the Government of Ontario. This three-year grant will enable CanadaHelps to develop tools and information dashboards that will engage donors and also provide charitable organizations with research and analysis into giving practices.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to have this opportunity to use data to have a real impact on the charitable landscape in Canada, and I am grateful to the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their generous support of our project.

When I made the leap from the for-profit sector to the charitable sector nearly two years ago, one of the things I was most struck by was the lack of easily accessible and visible data available on charitable giving in general, and to charities and donors on their own giving.

In stark comparison to the for-profit world, where companies like Amazon make shopping recommendations based on your past purchases, Facebook recommends articles or ads based on your, and your friends’, interests, and Twitter suggests new people to follow, most charities, particularly the smaller ones that often don’t have the internal capacity or know-how to analyze data, are working without essential information on their donors or donor behaviours.

Charities need to understand their donors to be successful like businesses need to understand their customers. Technology, digitization and data utility are driving change, and charities’ access to, and understanding of good data is essential for raising the funds they need for their programs, and for their very survival. Good data remains a competitive advantage, allowing charities to successfully engage existing donors and attract new supporters to their cause. With limited resources, charities need to be more targeted and effective in their engagement efforts – an impossibility without data to guide their actions.

That’s where we come in. CanadaHelps will be building tools that will help both charities and donors better use and understand their giving data. We’ve been serving charities and Canadians for nearly 15 years, and in that time, we’ve amassed a lot of data about online giving in Canada. While charities have always used data in some form, having access to the amount of data that CanadaHelps can provide, presented in easy-to-understand and use formats, will be a game changer.

What’s in it for Canadians?

In addition to wanting the charities we care about to succeed and increase their impact, we also know that donors are hungry for more information. As individuals, we’ve become accustomed to information at our fingertips. Data and technology have allowed us to customize products and services, and change our behaviours based on constant feedback and information. We discover new music and books with the help of algorithms; digital thermostats learn our behaviours and adjust our home-heating based on routines and schedules; and we have access to endless personal data from gadgets and apps on our phones that track things like activity. Data is part of our lives, whether we think about it or not.

In the for-profit world, there is so much data about what people do, accessible to consumers in an easily digestible way; however, there is no similar consumer infrastructure to track and provide insight on donor behaviour to donors themselves. There are also no benchmarking tools for donors to track their behaviour against others’. So what if donors could compare their own giving to that of others in their areas or age groups? What if an app could suggest new causes to support based on their interests or behaviours? Would understanding data encourage them to give more? The possibilities are endless.

There are so many exciting things that can come of more data literacy in the charitable sector. Data can fuel more information, more accountability, and more competition. Data can change our giving behaviour and increase giving overall. Data can help us all better understand the charitable sector better. And harnessing data can help us do more with less – something the charitable sector is especially skilled at.

With the ready availability of data and information that digital engagement provides, for-profit companies have proven the value of using data strategically to guide their work. With their important causes and critical work, there is even more at stake for charitable organizations. And in a world where we so often hear stories of donor-fatigue and a declining donation rates, we need to shake things up and give donors the information they need to help change the world.

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