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Clarity for charities: how data can be used to promote greater transparency

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks)

No matter which sector an organisation in the charity sector falls into, or which cause or issue it aims to tackle or promote, the main driver for them all is to make an impact and to maximise this impact as much as possible. Groundbreaking work has been carried out across the sector in the last few years, and it’s encouraging to see the increasing adoption of digital by charities big and small in order to communicate their messages effectively and emotively, increasing public awareness, donations and or signups. Just look at campaigns from Time to Change, Greenpeace and the British Red Cross as prime examples. 

Yet, in a world where data is arguably king, many charitable and third sector organisations still aren’t taking advantage of this valuable asset that is right at their fingertips. As Andy Richardson, CEO, Dynistics explains, using data insights in a strategic way enables charities to not only save time and resources, but can stretch the pound even further.

The data dilemma 

With vast amounts of data to look at - from funding to donations, charitable personas and marketing activity - the hard part is often knowing where to start. What is the primary goal of the organisation? Is it to increase petition signups, hit a donations target or ensure new funding is used in the most effective way? Whatever the goal, it’s essential for charitable and third sector organisations to operate with transparency at all times, showcasing the effectiveness of the work the donators and supporters are actively backing - and data is vital to achieve this.

Once the goal has been decided, organisations need to take a step back and look at what data they currently have, and what data will help them to achieve their goals. This structure and clear direction enables charities to not only consistently record data, but to allow the data to be accessed, updated, used and flexibly combined across all departments. Dividing out the different areas of data within a charity will clarify what should be prioritised and what needs to be communicated to stakeholders and used in important documentation such as funding or partnership applications.

Achieving a charitable advantage

As with any organisations, charities and the third sector need to be working towards achieving a business advantage. Competition is tough, and in this current climate of uncertainty, the once ‘reliable’ donors may no longer be able to be called upon. In times like this, it’s essential for charities to use data insights to get a deeper understanding of what their competitive advantage is and where new, untapped markets might be.

Additionally, in a sector that is often time, resource and funding-poor, achieving clarity can identify areas where significant costs can be saved - or even areas where further funding is needed to give it enough backing. Imagine being able to have all of the data you need, in one place; a single view could give you all of the insights needed to inform decisions and ultimately, save costs. For either a top manager, or a member of the team, understanding this information at the click of a button is entirely possible.

Departments can benefit almost immediately from having this data available 24x7 through a web browser, on a tablet or smartphone. There's no need to go hunting in reports or spreadsheets and with the constant refresh capability, it's always up to date. It's even possible to add drill downs for the times when you do actually want to get to the finer detail behind the summary. For example, if donations are chosen as an area of focus, organisations could look into detail and analyse who the donors are, and where the donors are. How often do they donate, and how are they currently communicated with? What could be learned from this group of donors that could be replicated with another donor persona? Not only can this level of analysis enable the charity to run more efficiently and effectively, but it can also dramatically improve stakeholder relationships moving forwards; reacting to an initiative or a change in strategy no longer needs to slow the business down, the use of data can actually propel it forward. Given the huge financial pressures now endemic within the third sector, the ability to proactively address issues in this way will deliver an immediate benefit.

Getting the Board on board

A charity’s Board of Trustees is imperative to inform the direction and performance of the charity itself. Reporting, of course, plays a huge part in this. Granted, there will always be the need for detailed information. However, providing a choice as to what level of information is being displayed will benefit the entire team; whether the screen is displayed on a big screen in the office, in the staff room or meeting rooms, it’s a guaranteed way to ensure all employees are informed of progress against company goals.

Just think, the next time you are sitting in a meeting with the Board and need to provide an overview of what's happening right now, do you want to hand out the same reports which will more than likely be at the bottom of another pile of similar reports by the end of the day, never to be read? Or, do you want to bring up a visual dashboard on the big screen, telling the Board that if they'd like to see the data for themselves, all they need to do is click on the link waiting for them in their email inbox? It really is that simple.

Data as in impact-driver

Any organisation has targets to meet, and charities are no exception. A change in mindset is needed: data and business intelligence must become part of a charity’s core structure, not be seen as a side project. If given the right attention, data really can be used to drive business advantage, meet targets, and promote greater transparency in a sector where visibility is not optional.

Andy Richardson, CEO, Dynistics (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Flickr / janneke staaks

Andy Richardson is the CEO at Dynistics.