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Data and analytics: they’re not just buzzwords

26 February 2019

Do you know if your website is as engaging as other charities’ in your subsector? Are other organisations communicating more through paid or organic channels? Is your website mobile-friendly enough?

Limited understanding of devices, platforms and engagement means ineffective communications not just now, but in the future. A lack of analysis is an ongoing threat to the sector while good analytics can reframe the conversation and provide the insights necessary for data-driven approaches, strong digital strategies and better decision making.

We always evaluate our campaigns and use data to analyse the behaviour of our users when we send out our messages across all our platforms on social media, our website and in newsletters. We listened to what users felt about our Christmas campaign from the previous year and built on that. Gathering that insight enables us to produce the content which our users respond best to, amplifying our campaign further and, ultimately, getting more families excited about reading which is what BookTrust exists to do.”

Sharon Fried-Jones, head of digital at BookTrust.

Why is digital data so important?

Roughly 80% of data is known as dark data as it is collected but not used beyond processing and storing. This is evident in the charity sector where 82% of charities say when they do collect the right data, they don’t have time to analyse it properly. When it comes to digital communications, only 12% of charities feel able to use analytics to improve website performance and only 7% can understand who uses their website through analytics.

The use of digital is a dynamic process. It requires constant evaluation and impact, yet 75% of those in the recent Charity Digital Code Benchmark Report stated “we use digital, but don’t have the time and resources to look at what others are doing”. We need to ensure we don’t forget the science in data science. It’s not just about data and fancy graphics, it’s about testing hypotheses and addressing research questions. This doesn’t have to be scary. Irene Lorenzo, head of digital communications at Stonewall, suggests to “do more of whatever is working for you and avoid repeating what doesn’t get you any results. Our social media engagement has skyrocketed ever since we started curating our posts following hints from our analytics. If it doesn’t work, think about how you can tweak your copy and photo until it does.”

How can we use it better?

Raw data can be transformed into insight through processes such as the Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom (DIKW) model where useful data is identified and then contextualised to become actionable. The IFRC’s Data Playbook recommends a data socialisation approach, “the combination of sharing and widening data skills from the basics to intermediary, while fostering a data culture.” According to NPC’s Data with Destiny guide, there are three necessary elements for data to be used effectively: systems to organise, capabilities to analyse, and a culture committed to use.


Conducting a data audit can help to understand what data is currently held, as well as the quality and accuracy. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data points available, so make sure you understand what you want to know and focus on the data that can help you do that. Healthy, well-organised data that goes beyond vanity metrics can save everyone time and energy going forward, not to mention automated processes. Systems can also involve data governance policies and adherence to the joys of GDPR.


Following the Lloyds Bank UK Business and Charity Digital Index 2017, the Charity Digital Code of Practice was developed which suggests using the data to test and evaluate ideas to improve campaign performance, as well as conducting skills audits to ensure the technical capabilities to identify and act on insights from data. Progress appears to be slow with data handling identified as a skills gap in the Charity Digital Skills Report 2018 with 62% of participants rating themselves as fair to low with the use, management and analysis of data. This is down only 2% from 2017. As a sector, we must develop skills in every area of data handling if we are to adapt and survive.


Senior buy-in and management involvement is crucial in terms of governance and legislation, but also for the process of organisational learning and best practice. We all need to be committed to open, evidence-based cultures with test and learn practices. You can get to grips with where your charity is at in these areas and more with the Data Maturity Framework from the Data Evolution Project or you can use the Charity Digital Code Quick Assessment Tool to consider how digital is embedded in your charity.

The importance of data readiness extends internally and externally. Your organisation is part of a wider data ecosystem with peer charities, individuals, funders, suppliers and others. Together, there is the potential to support collaborative activities working towards more meaningful understanding. For instance, benchmarking is one of the key areas where you can enrich internal data and turn your analytics into actionable insights. Internal and external benchmarking allows for systematic KPI-setting based on current performance and sector-wide best practice. Internal benchmarking enables you to understand the historic baseline you’re working with, spot patterns, interpret trends and predict accordingly. External benchmarking allows this on a wider scale so you can identify strengths and weaknesses in the context of how others are doing, as well as the ability to set high standards based on top performers rather than reactively against internal standards. This best-practice approach allows decision makers to look externally for ideas and solutions. It is a continuous process of measuring and learning which must be embedded throughout charity digital for the best possible results.

Pool your digital data with more than 60 charities to compare and evaluate online performance with our Digital Benchmark.

More like this:

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Why do we ignore digital impact?

Three Google Analytics reports to help drive digital marketing decisions

Stacey Kelly-Maher

digital projects officer, CharityComms

Stacey is CharityComms' former digital projects officer. She previously worked in digital for the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (ACAMH). When not attached to technology, she consults on mental health research, policy and campaigning.