The last day at the Social Capital Market Conference in San Francisco closed out with a bang. The Big Data for Good session was a standing room only affair, attracting folks from both the nonprofit and social enterprise sector.

Speakers included Jim Fruchterman from Benetech, Bernando Hubberman from HP Labs, Caroline Barlerin from HP Global Social Innovation, and TechSoup's own co-CEO Rebecca Masisak.

Panel of speakers at SOCAP

Making Sense of Big Data

From the perspective of a data newbie, thinking about the term "big data" is a little overwhelming. What does it mean? What is big data for good?

A hot buzzword in 2012, big data refers in this context to all the information captured online or via mobile transactions around the world each second.

To better understand big data, Caroline Barelin offered the 4 Vs associated with big data: volume, variety, velocity, and veracity.

And big data is exactly that, data so vast, coming from so many different sources and at such speed, that it is incredibly difficult to process.

Realizing Big Data's Potential

Big data is extremely valuable at helping us understand and solve problems that could not even be envisioned before.

Big data is not new; large for-profit companies and corporations have been using big data to predict behavior for years, keeping teams of data scientists at their disposal to analyze data in real time.

However, nonprofits have not shared this luxury, often lacking the resources to analyze and act upon it.

Thankfully, what was once incredibly expensive is now much more accessible thanks to the rise of open source software and cloud computing. To better serve their mission, nonprofits need to take advantage of the power of big data.

Make Sure Everyone Has Access to It

This abundance of data can be harnessed to serve the public interest in innovative ways, but this cannot happen if the only players in the big data field are corporations.  

"We need a way to collect data that tells the whole picture; nonprofits need to get in the action too, otherwise our data will be skewed and not representative. In order for data for good to work, the collection of data needs to come from all of us. At TechSoup we are increasing the knowledge and capacity to help nonprofits contribute to big data. That way we can see the big picture and tell the full story," said TechSoup co-CEO Rebecca Masisak.

Big Data and Your Nonprofit

Big data doesn't have to be daunting. Your nonprofit is already collecting a large amount of usable data.

Make sure to check out Data Kind, formerly Data Without Borders. Data Kind is a group that helps nonprofits access the data science community so that data can be used for the good of humanity.

Want to learn more? Read about The Guardian and TechSoup Global's seminar on big data for nonprofits and charities.