48% of charities want to use data to improve service delivery. How can a data strategy unlock new potential for your service delivery?
Charities of all sizes are increasingly embracing a data-driven approach to their activities, and the reason for this is not hard to understand. "Without data, decisions are left to tribal knowledge or worse, the whims of the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion (HiPPO)," as Steve MacLaughlin, Director of Internet Solutions at Blackbaud, puts it.
But having a charity data strategy can also bring huge benefits when it comes to service delivery, not only in terms of decision making but also in how it can be offered to customers as part of the service delivery itself. In fact, the Digital Skills Report 2019 found that 48% of charities want to use data to improve their service delivery.
Here’s an example of how service delivery can be enhanced by data. The Welcome Centre, one of the largest food banks in the north of England, collected a large amount of data on its customers, including the frequency of their visits and related information. Using this data set and with help from Datakind UK, a data analytics charity, it developed an artificial intelligence (AI) - based algorithm. This algorithm is able to predict very early on in a new client’s relationship with the charity whether they are likely to need some face-to-face help to prevent them from becoming overdependent in the foodbank.
"Without doing that we wouldn’t be able to help the clients in the way we do. We would be handing out a food pack and not much more," says Ellie Coteau, The Welcome Centre’s manager.
This illustrates how charities can use data in highly sophisticated ways to enhance their service delivery, and that data science expertise is at hand for those charities that lack the necessary skills internally. But there are also more straightforward ways that data can be used to improve service delivery, such as making it easily available for customers via a self-service model.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF), for example, has given itself a digital facelift, and its new website plays a central role in getting data and other digital resources concerned with cardiovascular disease to those that want to access it.
The website is the customer-facing part of a re-engineered IT system which integrates BHF data from multiple disparate sources along with the right tools to get relevant data to the right people. It now gets over 600,000 visitors accessing the data each month.
Some charities have also begun using more sophisticated visualisation tools to present relevant data to their customers. Charitable trust The Utley Foundation collects information about singing and other events for dementia sufferers and presents each one on a map on its Music for Dementia 2020 website. Visitors can enter their postcode and then zoom in on their local area to find suitable events and drill down by clicking on the event on the map for the address, days and times, and so on.
See Around Britain, a photographic travel guide, does something similar, presenting its database of photographs of interesting places to visit around Britain on a map. This offers visitors the ability to drill down to inspect photographs of the facilities, perhaps to assess how accessible they are to wheelchair users.
It’s frequently the case that a specialised database system is needed to enable charities to exploit their data to the maximum, and customer (or constituent) relationship management (CRM) software tailored to the needs of digital charities often fits the bill. CRM software is often used for campaign management, donation management (including the ability to take payments), donation accounting, fundraising event management and data analytics and reporting, but it also has important applications for digital service delivery.
Animal charity Tiggywinkles, for example, feeds information about animals brought in to its care and the people who brought them in to its CRM system, enabling it to keep track of the animals and their progress and to update people about the progress of the animals they brought in as they regain their health.