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Michael Patrick
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Make data-driven decisions

Business Intelligence for Nonprofits—Four Steps


Nonprofits collect mountains of data about donors and members, and many metrics and reports are monitored regularly. But data and reports are not the same thing as business intelligence (BI). In simple terms, true BI refers to gathering all the organization’s data and analyzing that data to learn from it.

There are many articles about why nonprofits should use BI, and we will assume you already know the benefits of business intelligence for your nonprofit. Instead, this post will simplify the daunting task of gaining business intelligence with your organization’s data. There are basically just four steps:

Does your organization have true BI? Consider these four steps...

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1. Collect — Think about all the data at your organization that you might care about—information about donors, transactions, ticket buyers, marketing campaigns, purchases at the gift shop, website visits, etc. This data is saved in multiple locations and in multiple formats—some on local servers in SQL, some in the Cloud in Oracle, and some on individual computers in Excel. Identifying and collecting this disparate data is the first step. The goal is to copy and standardize the needed data into a central location—commonly referred to as a data warehouse.

The Challenge — Each system has proprietary database and table structures that must be deciphered to map each field to your data warehouse. Some vendors publish their data schema while others can only be found by reverse engineering. Do you have the resources to identify and map the data warehouse?

Our Recommendation — Find a BI tool that can identify and collect the data needed for your data warehouse with pre-configured mapping to The Raiser's Edge and ticketing systems like Gateway Galaxy and Siriusware.

2. Organize — The next step is to organize the data in a way that makes reporting easy. This might mean matching records across systems, simplifying multiple tables into flat files, consolidating records, joining tables from different systems, or other steps to make easy reporting possible.

The Challenge — Merging tables and data elements into a logical structure requires deep knowledge of not only the originating software but also understanding the business reporting needs of executive management. Does your organization have the skill sets necessary—and time available—to dedicate to the project? 

Our Recommendation — Find a BI tool that has the structure already built to organize critical fundraising data.

3. AnalyzeData warehouses themselves are not the visible end-product—they are just the storage of data from which we take useful snippets of information to discover something new. This mass of organized data can now be twisted and turned to find meaningful patterns or interesting trends. This is where you have the “ah-ha” moment that can set your organization apart—the Intelligence part of BI. 

The ChallengeThe most beautifully designed data warehouse means nothing if you do not have the data tools and expertise to answer the questions you need. Can you easily drill down and make sense of the data as needed without requiring technical skills or manual manipulation? 

Our Recommendation — Find a BI tool that allows non-technical users to analyze data and create their own dashboards with dynamic visualizations—and the ability to drill all the way down to the individual record. 

4. Present —"A boring data table is worth a thousand words" said no one ever. Your executives and board need to quickly see the results of the analysis. No matter how obvious it may seem to you—can you convey the information in a thought-provoking, yet easy to grasp manner?

The Challenge — Charts and graphs make powerful visualizations but do you have the tools to answer the next question? Can you easily drill into the data to uncover the root cause of the change? If your BI tools require you to tell your boss "I will have to do more analysis and get back with you" then you have lost.

Our Recommendation — Find a BI solution that presents intelligent analytics in a format that allows people at all levels of the organization to understand an insight. 

"You mention 'BI tools' often," you might be thinking "but aren't many of these robust and complex business intelligence tools out of reach on a nonprofit budget?" Well, maybe, but this is precisely why JCA built Answers.  

JCA Answers is a business intelligence suite built for specifically for nonprofits. Answers has a comprehensive data warehouse and stunning dashboards with dynamic visualizations and charts that can be accessed from your desktop, tablet, or phone. Pre-configured for The Raiser's Edge, Gateway Galaxy, and Siriusware, JCA Answers will help you visualize the most important metrics for your business and present them in a format that will provide your audience with actionable insights. 

As you consider building BI at your organization, consider these four steps. And as you dive into the challenge, JCA has your back with Answers.

Looking for more nonprofit data insights? Download the Fundraiser's Guide to Data Analysis.

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