Big data has applications in the nonprofit world

The thoughtful use of big data is changing the world of business — for-profit and nonprofit. Data enables businesses to sharpen the definition of success, to examine practices and to ensure that every activity is geared toward producing a desired outcome. Data drives the behavior that drives results.

For-profit companies have led the charge in collecting, analyzing and using data to predict behavior and to design products and services that meet and even anticipate their customers’ wants and needs. Following their lead, businesses in the nonprofit sector also are increasingly using data to better understand their impact and to improve the effectiveness of what they do.

Crafting specific support
Consider this: Summit Education Initiative uses predictive analytics (data) to help schools provide each child exactly what he or she needs to achieve success. By comprehensively analyzing robust data about student performance, SEI has developed a clear, objective understanding of what the markers of success look like for a student as he or she travels along the Cradle to Career Continuum.

Armed with data about an individual child’s strengths and challenges, his or her teacher can offer specific support to each child, as opposed to putting the same solution in front of everyone.

SEI proves that thoughtfully interpreted data becomes information that leads to the right action. It ensures students get the right kinds of help and conserves school resources by identifying efforts that are most likely to succeed.

Summa Health System’s Center for Health Equity demonstrates the power of data in a health care setting. Co-located with the medical practice is a community space where patients and community members can access programming, such as exercise and nutrition classes that can change their health trajectory.

Data shows Summa the current and emerging medical trends, which enables it to proactively develop programming. Researchers also analyze data to understand broader implications for public health and behavior change.

Even the arts
Data is driving business in the world of arts, too. Decades ago, an arts organization had an artistic director who made programming decisions based upon his or her artistic vision. Today, the healthiest arts groups have learned to understand the data about audience preferences and are designing programming that will rise to the top of the thousands of entertainment options available to consumers.

The Akron Art Museum, for example, opens its doors to the community on Free Thursdays, surprising visitors with music, food, drink, hands-on opportunities to make art, and of course, a nationally-praised collection of contemporary art. Data has compelled the Akron Art Museum to define its relevance in a new, participatory way.

As a person who spends most of her time in the world of nonprofit business, I see all around me evidence of data driving smarter work and better outcomes. In a world of many needs and scarce resources, the thoughtful use of data is no longer a luxury, it is a community imperative.

We have the for-profit business world to thank for pioneering the use of data to understand human behavior and get better results. ●