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#DarkData casts new light for charities

#DarkData is the data you hold but don’t routinely use. Think of all of the spreadsheets you and your colleagues have received in the last year with financial, operational, customer and compliance data, and the obvious value that must be captured within.

As we serve more charities in topics ranging from inbound call handling to marketing strategy to fundraising analytics, the #DarkData opportunity has really started to stand out. Recently, we convened a group of charity CxOs and we heard that leaders and their teams are drowning in data. At the same time, participants expressed a shared ambition to become more evidence-based.

We believe charity leaders need to become demanding commissioners of insights, which #DarkData can power. We also believe immediate progress can be strikingly ambitious and quick.

Our approach to #DarkData is classically top-down. Is there a question you have always wanted to answer about variation in fundraising performance between segments, efficiency between business units, turnover in teams or effectiveness of services? Is there something you can’t quite put your finger on, but your gut tells you there must be something going on that you need to explore? You know your gut is rarely wrong, but you need a proper evidence base to make a big decision. 

It is situations like this that #DarkData is especially well suited to – when new thinking with a robust evidence base is needed to disrupt the status quo. 

Take for example our work helping a charity put a hard commercial value on the patterns discoverable in fundraising #DarkData. We started with assumptions about the supporter base and quickly chased down initial answers for questions that have circulated around management colleagues in recent years. We separated out the myths and facts and set about creating a robust evidence base to inform decisions about future marketing and transformation plans. 

This was driven by the re-use of data in MI and KPI spreadsheets and the existing analytical model – which was technically very impressive but not used directly by managers. By adopting a #DarkData approach, it was possible to produce an analytically robust scenario-planning tool for senior leaders to make evidence-based plans. 

In fact, it was clear all of the CXOs we gathered could relate to the vital importance of developing evidence to support decisions that are based on experience-based intuition. They also agreed that #DarkData might be most urgently applied to making sure resources work as hard as possible so budget can be committed with greater confidence and team efforts can be focused to greater effect. 

And the potential uses and benefits extend in many directions. 

#DarkData can help charities overcome specific governance challenges, like how to engage increasingly astute and challenging trustees by providing them with new insights. In addition to expected board-reported KPIs and MI, the impact of an organisation’s activities towards its mission can be brought to life through #DarkData. For example, routine board-reporting against contracted requirement can instead become a story-telling delight when #DarkData reveals hidden narratives.

What’s stopping you?

If you know what you've always wanted to know to make the biggest possible difference to your organisation, #DarkData can work for you now. We expect you will have access to varied data sources and sizeable data repositories – perhaps built out of succession of information strategies. #DarkData can help you uncover new insights and turn existing data assets into the evidence base you and your trustees need to support key strategic decisions. 

Contact the author

Contact the charitable and third sector team