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Harnessing the Power of Data for Philanthropy: Insights from UNICEF USA

Nowadays data unlocks infinite possibilities, and non-profits like UNICEF USA are leading the charge in harnessing the power of technology to forge deeper connections and drive impactful change. From the strategic use of data to the innovative application of AI and personalised communication tools, listen to our latest Igniting Change podcast episode to explore the frontiers of philanthropy and data strategy.


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In the world of non-profits, data is no longer just a buzzword; it’s a game-changer.

At UNICEF USA, this reality is brought to life through strategic insights and innovations driven by data. Enter Max Dakin, the Deputy Director of Philanthropy Data Strategy, who’s at the forefront of harnessing data to amplify UNICEF’s mission to improve children’s lives worldwide. His role? To weave data into the fabric of philanthropy, and transform insights into action.

This week, our 3SC USA Co-Founder, Puff was THRILLED to kick off Season 5 of Igniting Change by sitting down with Max to talk all things data…

Today there are so many resources at many different price points, with the internet, to be able to learn new skills, not just technical skills but I think especially technical skills

Max Dakin, Deputy Director of Philanthropy Data Strategy, UNICEF USA

Data for Non-profits

In the ever-evolving landscape of the non-profit sector, the magic of data isn’t confined to complex algorithms or high-tech software. Sometimes, its power lies in the simplicity of tools we’re all used to, like Microsoft Excel, which Max highlights as a surprisingly effective time-saver in this episode.

One of the episode’s highlights is Max’s insight into the transformative role of data within non-profits, crediting much of this success to the collective wisdom and collaboration that crowdsourcing knowledge brings. He shares his experiences of learning and problem-solving through his network. This communal approach to knowledge has not only shot Max’s work forward but has also underscored the value of professional communities.

Max specifically nods to the importance of joining forces with professional associations or interest groups, such as APRA, AFP, and the engaging roundtables hosted by yours truly (3SC. These platforms have served as vital arenas for knowledge exchange, offering fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to the unique challenges faced by non-profits.

If the idea of diving into discussions, exchanging innovative solutions, and being part of a community that’s pushing the envelope in data strategy excites you, our roundtable events are the place to be. We are always looking for more contributors for The Fellowship of The Data Enthusiasts, join us. We want to manifest shaping the future of non-profit success through the strategic use of data, one roundtable at a time!

We’re ALWAYS looking for more to join our (virtual) table.

I encourage anyone, if you're looking to get into any aspect of the field in any way, find interesting people and reach out to them, because most people will say yes

Max Dakin, Deputy Director of Philanthropy Data Strategy, UNICEF USA


UNICEF stands at the forefront of gathering and leveraging data on children, positioning itself as the global authority with its insights influencing over 3 million users worldwide. Within this massive landscape, UNICEF USA carves its niche by amplifying UNICEF’s mission stateside, focusing on raising awareness and engagement across America.

Data-informed Decision-making

This strategy underscores UNICEF’s ethos, where data serves as the compass guiding better, more strategic decisions. This approach not only sustains but also propels the organisation’s growth. As the digital age continually reshapes how data is generated, collected, stored, and processed, UNICEF USA constantly faces the challenge of harnessing this data effectively.

Increasing Awareness of UNICEF

In the quest to broaden UNICEF’s reach and impact, data also plays a crucial role in storytelling and community building. Amidst an information-rich landscape, they craft personalised messages that resonate deeply with their audience. By developing detailed personas, UNICEF USA tailors its approach to engage constituents more effectively, ensuring messages not only reach their intended audiences but also inspire action.

A standout initiative leveraging this approach is UNICEF’s Trick or Treat campaign, which has successfully raised over $195 million. Adapting to the challenges of the pandemic, the campaign introduced QR codes, a pivot that enabled innovative engagement through online storytelling, immersive video experiences, and social media, showcasing UNICEF’s agility in connecting with the public in meaningful ways.

By braiding data-driven strategies with creative communication, UNICEF USA not only furthers UNICEF’s global mission but also sets a benchmark for leveraging technology and data to make a lasting impact on children’s lives.

Trends in the sector

The digital landscape is witnessing two significant shifts that are reshaping the non-profit sector: the rise of Personalisation and the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Max shares insights into how embracing technology enables the creation of personalised relationships at scale, which enhances the experiences of constituents. A great example of this approach is UNICEF’s deployment of ThankView, a platform designed to tailor engagement through customised video messaging. Similarly, Puff shines a light on 3 Sided Cube’s innovative use of Loom for internal communications, underscoring the power of personal touch in digital interactions.

The impact of these personalised strategies is clear, with Max noting marked improvements in open rates, click-through rates, and conversions. Yet, the benefits of such tailored communication extend beyond these measurable outcomes, fostering deeper, more meaningful connections.

On the frontier of AI, Max is optimistic about the transformative potential it holds for the sector. Despite AI being in its early days, he advocates for a foundational understanding of AI technologies across all roles within an organisation. This knowledge is vital not only for harnessing AI’s capabilities but also for navigating its challenges responsibly. Max suggests a cautious approach to AI adoption, emphasising the importance of observation, awareness, and experimentation.

The promise of AI lies in its capacity to streamline operations and enhance efficiency. However, Max stresses the importance of discerning AI’s strengths, its applicable domains, and recognising when human-led processes are preferable. This balanced perspective on AI and personalisation spotlights a great approach to leveraging technology—maximising impact, all while nurturing authentic connections.

Catch the full episode here

Published on February 22, 2024, last updated on February 22, 2024

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