Big data moves to the non-profit sector


As we all know, big data is now recognised as a significant tool for businesses, allowing for more targeted strategising and evaluation of investment opportunities, through increased understanding of customers and new market opportunities. Alongside the enterprise impact, the trend is now spreading into charity, specifically how to donate effectively.

In the past, there has been an infamously opaque nature to the spending of some non-profit organisations, but new San Francisco based organisation, GiveWell, is helping to clear the fog using large-scale donation evaluation. At a societal level, it’s a really interesting use of big data and a great example of a practical implementation. Past websites, notably Charity Navigator, have attempted a similar process by tracking the financial health of charities, but GiveWell’s research is the first to provide adequate and accurate information about the genuine spending and impact of non-profit organisations.

GiveWell’s cofounders, Elie Hassenfield and Holden Kamofsky, saw that donors often respond based on marketing without truly knowing of the success (or lack of) that their funding will cause. To put it simply, donors are often triggered by emotion – particularly by advertising, or shock articles in the media – without true knowledge of how their gift will help. Simultaneously, charities are wasting money on said advertising. It’s a highly inefficient circle.

To combat this, GiveWell has launched an entirely new method of research into non-profit organisations. Its process sees them look into background literature on a charity’s area, speak to field experts as well as charity representatives, and review internal documents such as budgets and additional funding plans, all in order to provide transparency over spending, and thus donation effectiveness.

GiveWell’s findings prove interesting for UK based donors, with two of their ‘top charities’ holding considerable UK sectors. Against Malaria Foundation clenches first place, judged to deliver protective bed nets both efficiently and cost-effectively, whilst the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative has been considered the third most effective charity, globally, for their treatment of parasitic worms in children.

At EMC, we are pleased to see data analysis helping charity efficiency and the spread of aid, which not only improves welfare but also proves the importance of big data in non-profit work. From GiveWell’s findings, we’ve confirmed that this year Against Malaria Foundation will be the focus of our charitable activity and the role of data analysis in nonprofit work is certainly an area we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

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