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Operational Research, Performance Management

Passion and Data: a winning combination for charities!

I had a really interesting conversation about strategic planning recently with a senior leader at a charity that I have worked with. One of the great things about most charities is that people are so passionate about their cause and core mission. There’s no lack of enthusiasm and motivation to make a difference, but there’s never enough funding or resource to match these.

Our conversation led us to discuss the available data which could give an insight into where and how the charity could make the most difference and how this could be funded. So, for example, what’s the value of a big, showcase annual event if the cost to stage it leaves very little “profit” to invest behind beneficiary projects? At the other end of the spectrum, Dave Brailsford’s “1% Principle” might suggest that finding a low-cost (online) way of collecting millions of very small donations could aggregate funds into a sizeable pool.

Many charities have lots of data, but perhaps lack the capability or capacity to analyse it and draw out the insights. Sometimes the data is locked away in spreadsheets, sometimes it’s in a Donor or Beneficiary Management Database.

Passion without data will take you a long way, but in an increasingly complex and uncertain world, the danger is that you simply won’t be able to demonstrate the impact you are making and won’t be able to attract new funding.

In our conversation, we decided that data without passion was simply “boring”. Nobody really cares about numbers. When was the last time you got excited to hear someone saying “I’m going to do a t-test” or “Let’s draw the regression line”?

passion-data_matrix

Inevitably, there’s a 4-box matrix combining Passion and Data (consultants can always boil the world down to two parameters, can’t they?).

On reflection, this is a slight variation on something Tom Peters said, way back in the days of ‘A Passion for Excellence’. He said, “Most improvement initiatives fail for one of two reasons, they either have passion without system, or system without passion; you desperately need both”.

I’m convinced that Passion plus Data could be a winning combination for many more charities.

If you’re working in, or with, a charity that has lots of passion, but not enough insight from data, you should speak with the OR Society’s Pro Bono Project Manager, Felicity McLeister. She can help you define a project and find an OR volunteer (or team) to help you achieve that missing insight.

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