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Big Data: An Orwellian Privacy Nightmare or a New Tool for Fundraisers?

2 August 2017 at 3:59 pm
Good data has the potential to inform and improve the performance of fundraising campaigns, writes online and digital fundraising experts FrontStream Asia Pacific.

Contributor | 2 August 2017 at 3:59 pm


Big Data: An Orwellian Privacy Nightmare or a New Tool for Fundraisers?
2 August 2017 at 3:59 pm

Good data has the potential to inform and improve the performance of fundraising campaigns, writes online and digital fundraising experts FrontStream Asia Pacific.

We exist in a digital world today, and this has impacted on our behaviours, social interactions and daily routines in ways unimaginable only a decade ago.

Access to, and dependence upon mobiles, and constant connectivity, has impacted on our lives dramatically. In parallel, our digital lives have generated masses of data detailing everything we have been up to. So, as fundraisers who collect donor data and seek to manage it, what is the best approach to enable us to get the most from Big Data while remaining aware of the concerns around privacy and trust?

Each day, individuals generate thousands of data traces. These traces record and document our geographical movements, who we communicate with, what we purchase and when we purchase it, what we eat and watch, how much we exercise, and even how much we sleep. As a community, we are subjects to this information collection on a twenty-four our basis.

There are of course positive and negative connotations of this new reality. Collected data can offer vital insight to fundraisers, marketers, employers, financial institutions, governments and the implications for employability, getting a loan and even getting on a plane are vast.

Understandably, there have been many warnings about the negative possibilities of this constant data extraction, with multiple expressions of concern being raised from privacy advocates and government. Addressing these concerns, in the online, always connected world, is also difficult as it is also a very challenging environment within which to enforce privacy protections.

Let’s focus on marketing and privacy for individuals and sellers. You may have noticed that cookies are rife when it comes to ads popping up all over websites and social sites, you’re either repeatedly shown the wares of a site you have visited or you are marketed products that are deemed ‘now’ for people your age, gender and family situation. This is undoubtedly very targeted marketing but there are more impactful ways to use data to connect with your audience.

In reflecting on this in the context of fundraising, and how it may be applied, a good start is to collect the right basic data from your clients from the beginning. Of course, ensure you collect the basics as usual (their name and contact details, where they work). But you can also ask a few other relevant questions such as ‘are you a regular supporter of our cause?’ ‘Do you give to multiple charities?’  But not too many questions so as not to lose them.

Good data has the potential to inform and improve the performance of existing campaigns. Creating strategies based on data can deliver better results right from the start. Once you collect the data, use a smart Donor Management relational database (like Giftworks by FrontStream) or like platform, rather a static spreadsheet because they don’t offer enough functionality.

Capturing basic information about target audiences when creating your marketing strategy will help you create campaigns that perform better. Knowing your audience has always been the mantra of Marketing and Advertising departments, however now that we collect so much personal information and trackable data on individuals and their behavior we can start to make it even more personal and valuable.

For example, with the right software and the right person reading the data you can have a better understanding of each individual donor. When your data is clean it becomes easy to flag when a donor has given to your cause in multiple ways i.e., through a peer to peer campaign, an end of financial year donation and through regular giving through their workplace. This is an ideal engaged donor and they should be recognised and rewarded as such for their cumulative efforts. Missing this type of donor due to inadequate software or attention to detail is bad practice.

There can be enormous benefits to collecting the right Big Data and understanding the analytics, such as getting an even deeper understanding of your current and potential audience, however It can also lead to big privacy problems. In order to foster good relationships we need to be able to protect the information we collect, we also need to ensure our donors, partners and clients that we use their personal information honorably and when it comes to solicitations there should always be a way to unsubscribe or feedback to the sender. Don’t be a bot, the aim is to prove that while everything may feel ‘automated’ there is still someone on the other side of the screen trying to do the right thing.

Something to look out for in your fundraising software is Australian industry standard and compliance regarding collecting credit card payments or donations. Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) are a set of security standards that outline Australian requirements for security management of card data — including procedures, policies, networks, software design, architecture, and other security protective measures. Look for a fundraising platform that has top level PCI compliance rating, like FrontStream, to keep you and your donor’s privacy safe when they give money, it’s the least we can offer in Australia.

For every opportunity that Big Data presents, there seems to be a corresponding risk.

Big Data and the analytics captured by it is propelling a digital revolution. Collect information, protect it and use it to better inform your current and potential campaigns as well as understanding your donors.

Look for new ways to use data and digital behavior patterns to better connect with your audience and ultimately promote your cause. We can find some good in the scary new world of digital plenty but it will take time and resources.

For more information check out the FrontStream website. Contact 1300 330 118 or 03 8379 0700 or or email

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