Big Data & Analytics Heroes

Gil Betz

Chief Strategy Officer at Metro United Way
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Gil Betz

“Big data and analytics is the only way we can properly understand the breadth and depth of community issues. Big data and analytics serve as our crystal ball”

Gil Betz, Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) at Metro United Way and this week's Big Data & Analytics Hero, says “analytics helps us evaluate where and how to invest donors’ money for the best outcome.” He goes on to share that “cognitive computing technology is not a frill—it is the engine for our transformation.”

What were the biggest challenges when getting started with big data and analytics?

Metro United Way has served Louisville, Kentucky, for 98 years. This longevity creates gravity for retaining rules, practices, techniques, systems and the like. Escaping gravity requires significant energy; without gravity, new opportunities emerge.

With the major upheaval in philanthropic giving, in which anyone anywhere can give, advocate and volunteer 24 hours a day, we knew a new engagement strategy was needed for future success. Big data and analytics will guide our future strategies.

Explaining big data is the biggest challenge. We gather standard data on supporters including home address, personal email when available, employer data and giving levels, among others. Social media tracking, personal interests, influencers, Facebook and LinkedIn data were not part of our data sets. At first, we questioned whether collecting this type of data was appropriate for a nonprofit fundraising organization. After discussing the issue, we decided to do it. Collecting big data lets us tailor specific outreach opportunities for our supporters. As we continue this journey, big data and analytics will be one of the big gifts for ourselves and our community at Metro United Way’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2017.

How did you get organizational support for your big data initiatives?

We are using "BAM," our three-tier big data initiatives support tool. BAM is an acronym for Build coalitions, Ask what-if questions and Model the opportunity.

Building organizational coalitions is the essential first step. We select coalition members who exhibit a will to learn and a curiosity to explore big data initiatives. Once formed, the coalition starts its work by asking what-if questions such as, “What if we had access to Watson to identify the best approaches to build community for large-scale community change?” Pictures of big data opportunities emerge by also asking what-if questions. Using the concept that one picture is worth a thousand words, we gain organizational support by modeling the value proposition for the big data opportunity. BAM works.

How have big data and analytics impacted the way you do your job today?

Metro United Way’s vision is, “A community whose people achieve their fullest potential through education, financial stability and healthy lives.”

This vision requires an immense effort to understand generational poverty, a variety of family situations and health indicators. Using big data and analytics is the only way we can properly understand the breadth and depth of community issues. Analytics helps us evaluate where and how to invest our donors’ money for the best outcome. The same is true for grants we seek. Big data and analytics serve as our crystal ball. Windows and doors we’ve never had access to before, open. Big data and analytics shape our path toward a better life for all.

How are big data and analytics changing your business strategy?

I’ll quote Dr. W. Edwards Deming, “In God we trust: All others bring data.” For 98 years, Metro United Way has been using the same general business strategy, running an annual campaign in the workplace. It’s a flat philanthropic world now, requiring bold strategies. We must be mobile, meeting people everywhere on their personal devices. We must use the techniques large companies are using: social data analytics, personas and message resonance, text analytics, and impact measurement. Cognitive computing technology is not a frill—it is the engine for our transformation.

In the next five to ten years, how can big data combined with analytics improve the world we live in?

Immensely! I envision a world where big data and analytics drive the business platform for all organizations whose mission is to improve lives across our planet. Big data and analytics will lead us toward coopetition versus competition. From education to health, big data and analytics is the universal road we travel to address poverty, education, and worldwide health issues, while expanding the knowledge, skills, abilities and collective impact for those of us seeking a better life for all.

Coupling worldwide collective impact alliances with advanced communication technology and big data analytics opens the door to world knowledge, opportunity and solutions for our most pressing social issues. Living, working and learning united is made possible by big data and analytics.

Transform nonprofit organizations with analytics