The ability to learn a wealth of detailed information about almost anyone has been in the news a lot lately. From the ability of political campaigns to target specific voters with specific messages to government surveillance, there’s a high degree of awareness that the Internet, along with higher-capacity computers, is making it easier to collect, store and manipulate information about individuals on a scale that would have been impossible just 10 years ago.

But how can fundraisers benefit from this new world of “Big Data”?

According to nonprofit technology consultant Larry Eason, president and founder of DotOrgPower (Orange, CA), even some of the smallest fundraising shops are already making unintentional use of Big Data, while a few larger organizations are already working with companies like DotOrgPower and Findability Sciences, a Big-Data solution provider, to take the mountains of information available about donors and prospects and make it work to their advantage.

Eason says the term Big Data refers to three things that are going on technologically with information: the velocity or speed at which data is being generated, the variety of information available and the staggering volume of data being generated literally every second.

The variety of ways data is stored on the Internet alone can be overwhelming. “With Big Data, there’s all this unstructured information,” Eason explains. “There’s a record with your name on one website, your Tweets, your Facebook posts, maybe blog posts — it’s all in different formats and different places. All that information can be useful, but the variety of data and variety of places where it’s stored is a challenge.”

However, because computers have become so much more powerful and versatile, “We’re beginning to learn we can tap into that data to help us do our work more effectively. We have the technology now to be able to store, filter through and combine this unstructured and structured data to paint a detailed, coherent picture of the people whom nonprofits, corporations and NGOs are trying to reach.”

Eason says many smaller organizations are already leveraging Big Data unintentionally whenever staff does prospect searches on LinkedIn. However, “Not many nonprofits are actively using Big Data or working with firms that are doing Big Data work,” notes Eason.

“You really need to be working with a firm that’s doing work around Big Data,” Eason says, adding there aren’t currently any off-the-shelf software products that will allow nonprofits to start collecting and filtering data in-house.

However, one thing nonprofit fundraisers can do right now is to start using social media data sources like LinkedIn more intentionally to tap into their staff members’ and volunteers’ existing networks.

While Big Data gives organizations the ability to reach thousands (or even tens of thousands) of people — at least via the Internet — Eason cautions the most important facet of this tool is how it can strengthen an organization’s “mission critical” relationships. “I want to know how technology can help develop my most important relationships; I’m much less interested in scale,” he says. “This isn’t just about what you do online — this technology isn’t just so we can do lots of things on the Web — it also informs the things we do in person.”

Source: Larry Eason, President and Founder, DotOrgPower, Orange, CA.
Phone (310) 876-5173. E-mail: