How Data Helps Feed Hungry Families

Clearer insights fueled by the Alteryx Analytic Process Automation Platform enable nonprofit OzHarvest to expand its mission of reducing food waste and eliminating hunger across Australia.

 

OzHarvest, Australia’s leading food rescue organization, collects and redistributes nearly 200 tonnes of excess food each week to aid people in need. Along the way, its workers gather something equally valuable: Data from donors and meal recipients that can help the nonprofit make an even greater impact on hunger. 

“As we go from place to place, all kinds of questions come up,” says Nigel Douglas, OzHarvest’s data analyst and formerly one of its delivery drivers. “Like, ‘How often do we pick up food from here, and how much are we receiving?’ Or, ‘What sort of food do we normally give out to this agency?’” 

Timely, accurate reporting on the organization’s activities and results is one of the keys to unlocking greater support from food outlets, government programs, and individual contributors. For years, though, OzHarvest staff members often struggled to glean usable insights from the huge pool of data trapped in paper forms, unintegrated spreadsheets, and other locations. 

“We had the answers but spent a lot of hours putting them together. Any time we are inefficient, that basically means we are delivering fewer meals.” 

—Andrew Miller, National Logistics Manager, OzHarvest

Fewer errors, no more duplicated effort 

OzHarvest’s turning point came in early 2019, when a technology consultant recommended the Alteryx Analytic Process Automation (APA) Platform to Douglas. Through the Alteryx for Good program, which provides free or discounted software licenses to nonprofit organizations, Douglas built a new data management environment at OzHarvest that generates up-to-date reports in minutes rather than hours. 

The centralized Alteryx environment also reduces the potential for manual errors and incomplete data aggregation that occurred when multiple people worked in separate spreadsheets. 

“Instead of 10 employees trying to create their own reports from data stored in siloed locations, they offload those requests to me and I run everything through Alteryx,” he says. “I can act as the single point of data knowledge to create a detailed and consistent view of what is happening across our organization.” 

Gone are the days of staff members duplicating each other’s efforts to track down the same facts about OzHarvest’s logistical operations or calculate the true scope of its community impact. Alteryx combines data stored in S3, MySQL, SQL Server, Excel, CSV, and text files into one repository. 

“If somebody is asking a question about our results and impact, I can connect them with other people who are working along the same lines,” Douglas says. “Alteryx supports greater intelligence sharing across our organization.” 

He estimates that the Alteryx APA Platform saves OzHarvest colleagues at least 10 hours a week on manual data management tasks. The nonprofit’s reporting is also more comprehensive and reliable, thanks to improved data cleansing and visualization capabilities. 

Even better, says Douglas, the software requires almost no programming expertise to use. “Because it’s a drag-and-drop platform, I was able to start pulling and combining data from various sources almost immediately,” he says. “Alteryx has allowed me to add new skills and play a more integral role in our mission.” 

 

Reliable stats on reach and impact unlock funding support 

OzHarvest saw immediate benefits from being able to show current and prospective donors how their support helps feed people in need in local communities. 

“As our CEO is walking into a media interview or a speaking engagement, she can say, ‘We have delivered this many meals and rescued this many kilos of food from landfill’ in as close to real time as possible,” Miller says. “Also, for the food outlets and other business partners that we work with, our ability to share accurate and consistent numbers that show the impact of their donations is crucial in strengthening those relationships.” 

After the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in March 2020, OzHarvest lost major sources of revenue due to cancelling its flagship fundraiser and other events. As a result, OzHarvest had to rely more heavily on government funding. And as more than 800,000 Australians lost their jobs within three months, the nonprofit also faced a spiking demand for relief. 

“When we apply for a grant, the government or organization wants to understand how many people we will support in that specific geographic area and among specific demographic groups,” Miller says.

Because the Alteryx data aggregation and filtering tools enable OzHarvest to pinpoint its impact by neighborhood, answering such questions is simple. 

“We are very successful at targeting our pitches to the federal, state and local governments,” he says. “We can show them that, ‘If you give us this amount of money, we can reach this number of people.’” 

From March through September 2020, OzHarvest delivered more than 19 million meals and diverted over 5,000 tonnes of food from landfill.

“If we couldn't accurately pull up the figures on our impact, we would not have gotten the funding to reach more people,” Miller says. “It's as simple as that.” 

always learning and improving  

Douglas aims to continue expanding OzHarvest’s use of the advanced analytics tools in the Alteryx APA Platform to drive greater efficiency and better-informed decisions. For example, the nonprofit is examining seasonal and day-to-day variations in the amount of donated food to help fine-tune its collection schedules. 

“I think we have only scratched the surface of what’s possible with this software. We’re uncovering so much value in our data that can help us keep the face of OzHarvest visible and show donors that we are effective.” 

—Nigel Douglas, Data Analyst, OzHarvest 

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Nonprofits: Interested in learning more about the Alteryx For Good program? Apply here.