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February 7, 2012

Researchers Make the Analytics, Non-Profit Connection

Robert Gelber

For many non-profits, the era of big data means that the common tools of the trade for monitoring contributor movement are being outpaced by a growth in available info to fine-tune collections.

This is also the case for the health and aid agency, the Red Cross, which just opened its books to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s business school and its Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI).

The Red Cross seeks to solve issues with its donor base and may find its answer with the help of WCAI as well as researchers from Baylor University, the University of Pittsburgh and members from the academic team behind the IBM Watson supercomputer.

Specifically, the organizations wants to get to the heart of donor patterns. To begin with, they have a special set of initial questions for the analytics teams to tackle.

According to Justin Kern, who is following the story, “Fewer than 10 percent of those who donate to the Red Cross become repeat donors, and many are only prompted after a headline-grabbing event or a disaster that hits close to home, according to figures from the organization in a news release on the analytics effort.”

This one-time donation phenomenon has prompted the Red Cross to drill down into its data and search for the key to build lasting relationships with its donors. They are now teaming up with the Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) to help reveal the hidden answers to their quandary.

The WCAI likes to be the link between academia and industry and it does so through customer-level analysis, helping companies make use of data collected from individuals, promotion of new analytic models and finally making analytical findings available to management and executives.

In their work with the Red Cross, the WCAI will deploy six teams from Baylor University, University of Pittsburgh, and IBM’s Watson analytics to focus on different areas of the Red Cross’ pool of 500,000 donors since 2006.  The main areas these teams will focus on will be in visualization, user privacy, ease of access to big data sets, data insight and marketing possibilities.

Ultimately, the Red Cross wants to be able to make better informed decisions regarding not only how to bring in donations, but to learn what it takes cultivate more investments in the future. 

Elea Feit conveyed this sentiment during a recent interview, noting, “It was a shoot-from-the-hip type of world,”  Feit continued. “But over the last 10 years, as marketing migrates to platforms like the Internet and direct mail, we can see what is really going on and what ads prompt a purchase. There is an opportunity to leverage that data and add some rigor to the creativity of marketing.”

So with some intense research and advanced analytics, it would appear that the Red Cross has made a clear effort to make decisions based on advanced analytic research and take the risk out of guessing what is the next best step.

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