Data for Good Interview Part 1

Analytics and visualizations are important for non-profits

Geoff Zakaib of Data for Good shares our passion for the non-profit sector, business intelligence, and better data management. In part one of our two-part interview, he explains what they do and how non-profits can benefit.

Geoff Zakaib is a Board member and the Calgary chapter lead for Data for Good, a volunteer-driven, Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to improving life in our communities through better data use. Part of their work involves helping non-profit organizations capture data and information more effectively, and use it for campaign optimization, cost and donor efficiencies, and numerous other benefits.

You can learn about Data for Good at https://dataforgood.ca/  

You can find information on the Calgary chapter at https://www.meetup.com/Data-for-Good-Calgary/

How did you become part of Data for Good?

I reached out to DataKind in the U.S. in about 2013 and said “I want to start a data chapter in Calgary. And they said “you know what? We’re just getting started, we’re US-based, and are not going international. But a few months ago, we just heard from two people in Toronto that asked us the same question, they wanted to start a chapter in Toronto.”

So I reached out to these two folks in Toronto, they had started the Toronto chapter a few months earlier, and then I joined them. Today, I’m on the board of the national organization, and Data for Good is a Canadian registered not-for-profit organization with nine chapters across Canada—Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Waterloo, Maritimes, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Vancouver.

Can you talk a little about what Data for Good does in the Calgary community?

Data for Good helps non-profit and social organizations harness the power of their data through analytics and visualizations. There are a few things we do. We have monthly meetups on the fourth Thursday of the month and we’ll bring in speakers, do education and expose people to the whole concept.

We also have major engagements with non-profit organizations that we call Datathons once or twice a year. We’ve done this with the Calgary Distress Center, the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter and Calgary Arts Development to name a few. We partner with them months in advance to integrate their data and help develop objectives or questions about their programs and their impact. At the Datathon, the volunteers work with the partner organization and use the data to generate insights through analytics and visualizations.

We also have a DataCorps program where we work with organizations on projects that would be too small for a Datathon. In these projects, we form a small team of five to 10 volunteers to work on the organization’s data challenges.

How important is it for non-profits to be doing this?

Non-profits are in a really tough position in Calgary as a result of the downturn in the economy and COVID. So it’s even more important in decision-making, those decisions need to be evidence-based decisions. It’s critical for survival for all non-profits, no matter what your size, that you are making decisions and solicitations based on evidence. And that evidence comes through looking at your data, looking at your impacts and putting it all together.

What are the key thoughts when you first sit down with a non-profit?

I think it ultimately comes down to impact. “What is the impact that you’re having in the community?” is a frequently asked question. But to answer that question, you need to make evidence-based observations and decisions. So data is the foundation, and there’s a typical pyramid that you may have seen that shows data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

But if you are trying to have wisdom about your organization, about the impact you’re having, you need to start foundationally at the data. Then, through analytics and visualizations move that into information, move that into knowledge, and then on into wisdom.

What kind of data do you need? Where do you get it and how do you manage it? Next week, Part Two of our interview with Data for Good will cover how to begin and where to find resources to help.

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