FYI Blog

Best Practices: Big Data, State-of-the-Art Analytics, and Nonprofits

As usual, the commercial world is probably a few years ahead of the non-profit world. The myriad of consumer and psychographic data collected from the Internet, catalogs, and retail stores — Big Data —may or may not prove invaluable to nonprofits. Some of the pioneer donor co-ops are extracting effective models from this mound of raw data (see Jeff Mello’s FYI piece about co-ops and compiled lists), but the fact remains that in the nonprofit arena, there is no variable more predictive than the fact that an individual has recently given a philanthropic gift.

So should nonprofits ignore Big Data? Well, there are two basic data collection tasks that organizations have considered too costly in the past: the house contact database and the prospecting database. For house files, database storage costs have plummeted. And to me, the concept of the prospecting database has huge potential. Of course, these databases are not quite in the realm of the exotic new data available: they are much more nuts and bolts.  And, like the recent-gift variable, they are much more likely to leverage predictive analytics than consumer data.


So how can nonprofits get the most out of the data they DO have?  Many of Avalon’s clients take advantage of Avalon Analytics® – Avalon’s intensive, data-driven reporting and statistical analysis that helps our clients uncover the actionable opportunities that are embedded in their data to improve fundraising performance. Avalon Analytics® helps our clients mail smarter, by targeting our donor communications to those donors who are most likely to give.


Interested in learning more about these tools, then reach out to TJ Hillinger at:, or 202 429-6080, ext 110.