Big Data, Little Data

“Nonprofits in the future will be defined by how they use their data for public good while protecting the personal privacy rights of all who contribute that data.” – Lucy Bernholz, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2013

In last week’s post, I began to make the case for why pursuing a strategy of compiling and gathering all available public data on philanthropic activities is an important element of expanding the practice and culture of giving in the Balkans.

Since this tracking of giving in the U.S., the EU and other more sophisticated ‘philanthropy markets’ is well developed, much of the conversation in the nonprofit sphere about the ever-increasing importance of data has focused on how data gathered and gained during program implementation and needs assessment can be harnessed to gain a much better understanding of the development problems that exist and on which solutions are actually working to address these problems.  In this context, quality, comparable data sets and sound analysis can vastly improve the ability of ‘foundations, donors and nonprofits to drink from the same data firehose’ (borrowing another turn of phrase from Lucy Berholz’s Blueprint 2013).

Barron’s Penta Daily writes about philanthropy’s data boom, while TechSoup Global’s founder offers up some examples of how the million dots of data points and data agents are currently being connected.  Both of these short articles offer up some great thoughts to reflect on when examining the sheer quantity of data that we might have available to us, the challenges we have in sorting through it, and the possibilities offered when we devise solutions that we can use for strategic decision making and evaluation of the work we do for social good.

Last week, at the inception conference for the EU Civil Society Facility FPA projects held in Belgrade, there was a call once again among the more than 120 organizations involved in projects there to increase the ability to communicate between projects and to collaborate in more meaningful ways.  Henk Visser spoke of a desire to create a marketplace of shared resources and knowledge that could be drawn upon by all project partners., a product of the Foundation Center, is one such open-source (using Creative Commons licensing) model that could be replicated.  It is clear that if activities, methodologies, research, needs assessments and evaluations of impact are going to be shared, it will require an engaged collaborative effort between hundreds of organizations, with the strong vision of an administrator to make such a resource happen.  It would utterly fail if the resource were to be funded as a project, and would need to be set up in a way that its sustainability and usefulness were ensured. is aspiring to be such a place…and it is beginning to be more and more used as their interface has been improved.

As with the data available to us, it appears I have jumped around quite a bit in this particular post…perhaps indicative of the many ideas on data that are swirling around in my head lately, as I try to make sense of how we can harness some of these pieces, thread them together and work to improve and increase the breadth and depth of our sector.

With this, I leave you with one last link: Moving from Big Data to Big Wisdom 

Have comments, thoughts, or musings?  Please don’t be shy to share…



About author


Nathan Koeshall