The following is excerpted from Issue 19 of The Corporate Citizen. To learn more about how you can use your unique resources to ensure your corporate giving efforts are delivering business and social value, visit the Community Involvement topic page.
Say the word philanthropy and people generally think of contributing money. There are many other resources corporations have to give—volunteer time and products and services, for example— but here's one you may never have thought about: giving data—either directly, or through analytics and expertise.
In the current digital era, nearly all companies create, collect, and mine data as part of their business, and this data has quickly emerged as a vital asset to mitigate common challenges, from tracking diseases to relieving traffic congestion and aiding development. For nonprofit partners, access to the right data—and the analytic capability to make the most of it—is essential for community involvement success. Data philanthropy achieves many of the goals sought by traditional corporate social charity: It allows companies to give back in a way that produces meaningful impact, and reflects the businesses’ core competencies while preserving or expanding value for shareholders.
The Aimia Data Philanthropy Model
Investing in data analytics capabilities to improve and enhance business is considered mainstream for companies. At the same time, what has quickly become part of the normal day-to-day for businesses still remains a challenge for many nonprofits. Even though they also collect data—on the way they talk to supporters, on the way their service users connect with them, and on the delivery of the services themselves—nonprofits often lack the technical ability or financial resources to make sense of all this data to improve their operations.
At a time when money is tight and funders want evidence of success, data analysis is critical to the future success of the charity sector and Aimia, a Canadian data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company, present in 17 countries, is helping address this situation.
Aimia is committed to use its unique talents to deliver sustained shareholder value while driving social good. Its social purpose is to “make business personal, for the common good” and one of the ways it makes its purpose come to life is by using its knowledge, expertise, and resources to enable nonprofits through the intelligent use of data.
“Nonprofit organizations have a common challenge with our clients—they have mountains of data, but often need help to sift through it to find the insights that make them better at what they do,” said David Johnston, group chief operating officer at Aimia. “We’re fortunate to have brilliant data analytics professionals at Aimia, so it was natural for us to give back in a way that has a long-lasting and sustainable impact to some of the communities where we operate.”
Aimia's program incorporates a variety of formats, from intense 48-hour events involving up to 50 employees to smaller, one-day “data swarm” events targeted to a nonprofit’s specific needs. Aimia’s approach goes beyond the ‘one-day hackaton’ model. A designated data leader works closely with the charity in the months leading to the event to understand the needs, cleanse, and anonymize the data. The Aimia leader also accompanies the charity following the actual event to help evaluate and interpret data in collaboration with the charity to make the best of the new insights uncovered at the event and foster lasting social impact.
In a recent 12-month effort with Centrepoint, a youth homelessness nonprofit, Aimia used a data swarm to kick off the project—bringing in 10 of Aimia’s analysts to explore the ways in which different groups of young people responded to particular interventions. As a result, Centrepoint was not only able to fine tune its services and improve the efficacy of its interventions, but the work also helped it renew several high-value contracts and win new funding.
Since 2012, the company's work has supported more than 50 nonprofits, driving hundreds of delivery model insights. Its evidence has helped a growing portfolio of nonprofits secure funding and improve outcomes for their beneficiaries.
“We passionately believe in activating on a social purpose agenda that is clearly integrated with our core business strategy and the unique skills and passions of our employees. In our data philanthropy program, we use our analytical skills to help charities understand their data and share insights that enable them to make informed decisions to improve their impact, better demonstrate their successes to potential funders, and dramatically improve operational effectiveness,” said Jan-Pieter Lips, president of international coalitions at Aimia.
Being an integral part of its distinctive culture, Aimia’s program also drives tangible benefits for the company. The work done through the program creates pride, empowers and engages employees to address local social issues, and enhances efforts to recruit new employees. At the same time, it’s a value-added way for the company to strengthen its relationships with local stakeholders and business partners.
“Charities’ challenges are often very different from what our data experts would typically tackle on a daily basis. Applying their analytical skills to different data sets and uncovering insights to help solve complex social issues also offers unique opportunities for personal development and teamwork,” said Anne-Josée Laquerre, social purpose and corporate sustainability director at Aimia.
Aimia's approach helps build more meaningful relationships between charities and corporations in a collaborative way. In April 2016, the company conducted its first Global Week of Data Philanthropy with events in Dubai, Minneapolis, Toronto, and London, during which more than 150 employees and stakeholders spent 2,000 hours analyzing more than 75 million rows of data to help nine nonprofits find answers to operational challenges.
During the event, Aimia announced that it became a founding member of the Montreal-based Institute for Data Valorization (IVADO), which aims to bring together industry professionals and academic researchers to develop cutting-edge expertise in data science. As part of the relationship, Aimia and IVADO are co-creating an academic Hub for Data Philanthropy that will enable data analytics students and professors to collaborate with data science experts in the business community to support nonprofit organizations and social enterprises.
Building on its success, March 2017 will be Aimia’s Global Month of Data Philanthropy. “The one-week formula worked very well this year and we hope that extending the initiative to one month will create even more opportunities for collaboration and social impact” said Laquerre.
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