Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

June 24, 2013

Business Intelligence can drive nonprofit sector decision making

Special to Philanthropy Journal

BJ Cortis

In the nonprofit sector, technology is often about using the best tool for the job. Nonprofits often have a primary fundraising system that reconciles with the general ledger. Their online systems often add transactional data to the mix.

Still other systems may power certain fundraising strategies, or manage volunteers, grants or program areas. But, a limited amount of data flows between the systems, and integration is often limited to reconciliation — understanding where revenue came from in the broadest sense of when and how much.

The challenge of this approach is that it often lacks the depth needed to give nonprofits more strategic insight into what is working and what is not. Does participation in an event, as a volunteer, or in social media engagement drive fundraising? If so, which messages are most effective when delivered through which media? Can you plot a course of engagement across channels and programs that not only increases involvement, but also clearly demonstrate the programmatic impact in your communities?

Too often, the answer is “no” or “maybe, but not quite.” Cross-organizational analysis can be elusive if sufficient information is not shared between the systems or is unable to be presented for meaningful analysis.

Taking a Cue from the Commercial Sector

When it comes to analyzing data to make decisions and inform strategies, nonprofits can take a cue from the commercial sector. Over the past few years, the commercial sector has proven the value of Business Intelligence (BI) — the processes and technologies that transform data into meaningful information that helps move a business forward. Companies have used BI to:

Unify disparate data sets and create historical analysis and predictive modeling to guide strategic decision-making

Supplement standard customer data with social media content, including customers’ interests, purchasing activity, and social circles

Identify key metrics that will determine their overall effectiveness and progress toward goals

The Time is Right for BI in the Nonprofit Sector

Today, the nonprofit sector is in a unique position to reap similar benefits from BI. More nonprofits are understanding the value of Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) to their organizations, have started to plan for a CRM system implementation, and have discovered that a CRM system lays a solid foundation for BI. At the same time, the cost of BI solutions has come down, and BI technology has become more accessible.

The time is right for BI not simply because the sector can now access these tools. The time is right because today’s constituents expect a more custom, user-centric experience. In order to create this type of content and interaction — to be able to appeal to and engage with constituents in the most effective way — nonprofits must better understand their constituents. And, filtering rich CRM data with BI tools is the most effective way to gain this understanding.

How Does a Nonprofit Get Started with BI?

Recently, Heller Consulting published a paper, “Business Intelligence Applications for the Nonprofit Sector.” It’s an overview of what BI is and what nonprofits need to know about it, plus a review of some of the tools available in the market. In this paper, nonprofits can discover more about BI, including:

An introduction to BI: what it is, key terms associated with BI, and why the time is right for nonprofits to seek the value of BI.

An overview of the strategy, business alignment, and technical foundation that should precede a BI effort.

A review of some of the BI tools available on the market — including guidance on pricing, complexity, and experience in the nonprofit sector.

Business Intelligence can be an incredibly useful way to turn data into useful insights to help build strategies and make informed decisions. And with the increasing attention in the sector to CRM and constituent engagement, it’s never been a better time to find out more about BI.

BJ Cortis is vice president of client service for Heller Consulting. He began working in the nonprofit sector in 1997. Prior to joining Heller Consulting, he held a variety of positions including Director of Development at Society for Science and the Public and Principal Consultant at Blackbaud.

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  • At 5:20 AM, Anonymous Will said…

    Love your blog! I've been doing a lot of research into business intelligence and this has really helped! Thank you.

  • At 7:05 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    You Re right....
    Nonprofits often have a
    primary fundraising system
    that reconciles with the
    general ledger. Their online
    systems often add transactional
    data to the mix.
    Your post is first-class.
    You make a great point

    integrated marketing

  • At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree. That's why using advanced nonprofit software systems that will help improve efficiency is essential.


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