Case Study

Distil helps Crowdfunder become
masters of their data

Overcoming the challenges of a business that outgrew its data setup and needed a smarter way to use customer, revenue and project data for creating social good in local communities.

  • £350m

    Raised for causes, communities and
    charities across the UK

  • 300k

    Successfully funded projects and
    social initiatives

  • 10 years

    Historical data and over a billion
    rows in the database

From good to great – a data evolution story

Crowdfunder has always been a technology-led and data-informed business. Through their resolute commitment to create a positive impact for communities across the UK, they’ve grown quickly and have helped secure funding for over 300,000 initiatives so far.

Their swift growth trajectory and national coverage has generated a valuable library of billions of data points about their customers, projects, revenue and marketing. However, the team couldn’t use the data as effectively as they wanted and the structure of it no longer aligned with the evolving commercial offer.

A product of their own success, they had outgrown their setup and it was now hindering their ability to connect projects with matched funding partners, report effectively on the social impact created and identify growth opportunities. They needed a smarter, faster way to utilise the data in an automated and scalable way that could grow with them for the future.

With a goal to affect as much social change as possible, Crowdfunder engaged the data experts at Distil to sort out their data, get them set up for their future growth ambitions and show them what’s possible with AI.

Crowdfunder Brand Vitals

Established in 2011, Crowdfunder is a funding platform that allows charities, causes, businesses and communities to raise funds for their projects.

Born out of a desire to create social good using their tech and digital media backgrounds, founders Rob Love, Simon Deverell, Dawn Bebe and Phil Geraghty, created Crowdfunder as the conduit for the change people want to see in the world.

The platform has raised over £350 million supporting over 300,000 crowdfunding projects. They work with individual project owners as well as large corporations, who offer matched funding for selected opportunities through corporate social responsibility initiatives.

The impact of their work can be seen across the UK, from creating a safe haven for otters with the UK Wild Otter Trust to channelling over £30million into grassroots sports projects, and from creating new facilities like The Wave in Bristol to securing the future of historic traditions like the GlenWyvis Distillery in Dingwall, Scotland.

Challenge #1 – Centralise and Restructure the Data

The Crowdfunder platform handles thousands of projects and millions of data points every day. Every project owner, project donor, website visitor and corporate partner creates a data footprint when they engage with it.

The existing data structure had evolved organically through years of successful growth, ad-hoc developments and necessary additions. The shape of the data no longer fit the shape of the business. Although the team were working with the data as they always had, they were trying to work with the data as it currently existed and not how it would best suit their future needs. It was hard to channel and the data wasn’t flowing smoothly within the business. This meant manual reporting and spreadsheet-keeping had crept in, creating a limited picture of performance.

Defining the future shape of the data

The Distil team worked with the core stakeholders to identify the big questions that the data needed to answer. For instance, which revenue streams are producing the best results? Which projects should attract matched funding from corporate partners? What social impact are the projects having? The emphasis was on designing a data ecosystem that would support future ambitions, not be constrained by the current setup.

Connect, clean and clarify the data

The Crowdfunder platform is a custom content management system (CMS) but despite the bespoke nature of the platform, Distil connected to the data seamlessly with its built-in functionality – no custom development needed. The Distil team led the data engineering phase – assembling the data sources together and providing data clarity at every step.

Bringing the new data source into service

The entire business now had a new single source of truth to work from. But what about actually migrating from the old to the new? Guided by the data experts at Distil, the transition kicked off an unexpected but very welcome culture change in the business.

Team members were able to have first hand experience with the new data setup, which created trust and helped build confidence to let go of the past models and reports. The feedback showed it was liberating to be rid of the inherited complexity of the past and opened up a whole host of opportunities they were excited about.

Working with the Crowdfunder team, we were able to unlock the power of their data, help them identify new opportunities and generate accurate reports. We were able to help create trust and confidence in the new setup and once their team got their hands on the newly cleaned and organised data, the rate of adoption just exploded!

Gerry McNicol, Founder and CEO,

Challenge #2 – Identify and Segment Customer Groups

As more projects launched, more donations were received and more matched funding partners came on board. This meant more customer records that needed intelligent filtering, from noise to signal, from many to the most valuable. The Crowdfunder team faced the challenge of identifying the different types of customer in their ecosystem. Project owners, project donors and funding partners are all considered customers, and within those categories are charities, businesses and private individuals. So, how to go about grouping them?

Identify key customer attributes

Prior to using Distil, the Crowdfunder team could see on an individual basis the type of characteristics and project interactions a customer had, but they couldn’t group individuals together to activate any kind of personalised communications or customer service support.

Distil’s Customer Data Platform is designed to group individuals with sets of key attributes together to make up what we call customer traits. The Crowdfunder team were able to create customer traits to identify groups of customers by their different types, from simple split between new and repeat customers to more complex segments based on customer likes and dislikes.

Customer Traits power up Customer Segments

The natural progression in the Distil platform is to create customer segments from customer traits. This allows customers with similar characteristics to be grouped together for reporting or marketing purposes. The various operational teams in Crowdfunder are now able to create actions and reports for individual customer segments. For example, the marketing team can now develop and activate different communication flows for a group of customers based on a trait.

Customer segmentation drives action and culture change

This kind of visibility changed behaviour in the business. It drove team members to ask ‘where’s the data on that’ and ‘we should be amplifying this project because the data shows…’. It has also empowered their reporting to go deeper and more granular into the performance of different project types and different customer groups.

We’ve never been able to look at our customer cohorts before – it’s crucial for our growth to understand how to service our customers better. And it’s because we’ve done all the background work – we couldn’t have got here without all the historical data work.

Phil Geraghty – Co-Founder,

Challenge #3 – Find and Prioritise the Top Projects

Thousands of projects are fundraising on the Crowdfunder platform at any one time, so there was a need to create an automatic prioritisation system to identify those with the greatest potential and highlight those suitable for matched funding. Previously a manual process, it had become unsustainable to manage and meant internal resources weren’t used as effectively as they could be.

Project Scoring Algorithm

The solution needed to not only remove the manual workload of identifying high potential projects, but also be highly accurate and take into account as many data points as possible. So the Distil team created a project scoring algorithm that could rank projects and therefore elevate those with greatest potential to the customer service and marketing teams.

With the new single source of all Crowdfunder data in one centralised place, it was simple to get a clear overview of all the possible data points that could be used to create this new score. The Distil team reviewed the entire digital footprint of every customer type to assess their potential. Some of the questions answered were:

  • What time of day are you opening your projects?
  • How many help pages did you read?
  • Is this your first project?
  • What’s your following on your social channels?

Creating more project success stories

Using millions of data points, Distil created the Project Score Algorithm, which populates a dashboard of projects, organised by their quality scores. This visual representation is now the main source of project prioritisation for their teams. With project scores now visible in a single dashboard, the Crowdfunder team were able to pair the right support and matched funding opportunities with the leading projects, creating more and more positive good in the communities these projects aim to support.

I had our suspicions that we could be more effective with our resources and help more projects get the success they deserve. And now we’ve got the data to back that up. Our experience working with Distil, bringing all our data sources together and realising value within, can only be described as coming from darkness into light.

Phil Geraghty, Co-Founder,

Challenge #4 – Revenue Calculations and AI Forecasting

The finance team always had the top numbers in their grasp, but getting into the granular reporting of thousands of daily transactions, individual revenue streams and bank account reconciliation was more of a challenge. The previous data set up was causing a lot of time consuming manual reporting, investigation and analysis work, which could be superseded with a new reporting setup.

Fulfilling the financial reporting needs

From board reports to real-time insights, the Distil team helped create a range of dashboards that meant the team can now see at a glance individual revenue stream performance as well as have instant access to the reports needed at annual and quarterly report time.

Distil facilitated the creation of a new data champion role within the business and supported the team members in this new position to not only to ensure the wider team utilise the dashboards and insights available to them but also lead the business towards self-serve analytics, therefore reducing the volume of ad-hoc data requests.

They were able to answer questions about current business operations and revenue performance in real time without a giant manual reporting effort, and more importantly, trust the data and insight delivered. Crowdfunder Data Champions own every data lineage within the organisation and are able to help every business team with all their data needs.

Using AI to forecast future revenue

Donations and giving behaviours tend to fluctuate throughout the year – just as buyer behaviour in other sectors does. For instance, the first two weeks in January are not a particularly strong time for charitable donations! In the past, the Crowdfunder team experienced unexplained downturns in giving, with no real way of understanding if it was simply a natural fluctuation or if something bigger was happening.

The Distil team applied a machine learning model to the historical revenue data to create a future revenue forecast model. The AI forecast showed, reliably, whether or not revenue was likely to be quiet at that time or if the fluctuation was inconsistent with past performance. The forecast was more optimistic in several months, leading the Crowdfunder to be bolder – and that’s playing out in their current growth.

We’ve always had the revenue numbers but for the first time, we can now slice and dice them by characteristics like project types, organisation types and a combination of the two. The AI Forecasting tool means we can now see further into the future and adapt to the seasonal fluctuations.

Phil Geraghty, Co-Founder,

Top takeaways

Having created a new data ecosystem for the Crowdfunder team, complete with customer data platform, single customer view, analytics, reporting and forecasting, the team were excited at every stage to get their hands on the data and start creating reports and dashboards for themselves. 

With minimal training thanks to the platform’s user-friendly design, every staff member now has permissions to access relevant data and to build reports that help them understand data specific to their area of responsibility.

Despite initial consideration that hiring a team of data analysts might be the solution to Crowdfunder’s data challenges, Distil was able to get them set up for the future, reduce manual and ad-hoc reporting workload and open up data for use by everyone in the business – without the need for specialist skills in-house.  

The really powerful part is that the business has grown into a data-first team culture. Every question starts and ends with the data – it’s no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s the backbone of every decision, every strategy and every hypothesis. That means business-wide KPIs are now within everyone’s reach and visible to all. It represents a significant cultural shift and one that will support their future growth ambitions.

I love it when someone presents me with a report they’ve built using our data in Distil and they’ve found an opportunity or a solution to a problem.

Phil Geraghty, Co-Founder,

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