Learning about nonprofits | Big data sounds intimidating, but it is merely a tool to improve processes. Collecting information and analyzing it enables charitable organizations and foundations to measure and better understand the effectiveness of their strategies. Using the right tools, nonprofits can gauge their local impact, gain greater insight into their communities and even their internal workings. Here are a few case studies that demonstrate how nonprofits are putting big data to work today:

Learning about nonprofits community to increase donations 

The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s recent study found that charitable giving in the Las Vegas area grew more since 2006 than in any other region in the U.S. with a 15 percent increase overall. The change is puzzling at first, but after examining key changes that have taken place in the community, nonprofits can look at this surprising growth and learn from it. The Chronicle pointed out how area nonprofits noticed that rather than relying on larger gifts, they were receiving smaller donations from residents who were seeing neighbors lose homes and jobs. In the meantime, donations from larger entities started to wane. After noting this change, area nonprofits starting to focus more on securing a larger number of small donations. Three Square, a local food bank surveyed residents to get a better idea of how these individuals may want to get involved.

As a result, they were able to strategically change the way they approached fundraising campaigns. Also, individual donors increased significantly. In 2008, Three Square received more than 80 percent of its funding from foundations, with just 2 percent coming from individual donors. In 2014, these statistics are vastly different. The charity expects just 13 percent of its revenue will come from foundations, while individuals will make up 37 percent of funding.

Learning about community impact

To really move forward in doing good work, you have to know that your efforts are making a difference. If they’re not, it may be time to adopt a new strategy. Using business analytics to learn how your nonprofit is working toward its foundational cause is not only a way to ensure you’re meeting the mark, but compiling this data is also a good way to secure more donations and grants.

National Association of Community Health Centers recently collected data about its impact into an infographic. The report demonstrates how health centers have an impact that’s even wider than one might expect. For instance, they save patients an average of $1,263 per patient each year and served more than 85.6 million patients in 2013. Sharing information like this presents a compelling reason for new donors to contribute and help these organizations move forward.

Learning about your own nonprofit

Measuring internal operations data is another area where nonprofits must pay attention. A new project from GuideStar will provide a diversity benchmark that organizations can use to determine how they measure up against similar groups.

The organization recently announced that it would compile statistics on diversity within various nonprofits. Organizations can submit their information to the GuideStar Exchange. Once GuideStar has aggregated enough data, nonprofits will be able to look at the information and determine how their organizations measure up when it comes to having a diverse staff.

“We believe that data about who’s leading, working in, and with organizations is just as important as financial and operational data we already have,” GuideStar President and CEO Jacob Harold told the Nonprofit Times.

Currently, diversity benchmarks are lacking throughout the sector, so a greater focus on this issue could be beneficial for all organizations moving forward.

Process improvement through data

Maintaining and measuring data is a great way to improve processes, whether internal or external. The information is out there, it’s all about determining what results organizations are interested in seeing and implementing the tools necessary to reach these goals. Grant and donation management platforms can help organizations keep track of a certain amount of data, but Business intelligence and analytics can provide additional insight. Data is simply information, which can be used to learn about your community and how it gives, measure impact, or learn more about your organization.