ProSpeak: Nonprofit Fundraisers Can Learn a Thing or Two From Business Intelligence
It’s been a long wait, but business-intelligence technology finally is within the reach of nonprofit organizations.
Business enterprises have had these tools to play with for some time, but many nonprofit fundraisers are new to the game and are left scratching their heads, wondering what to do with them.
Since nonprofits are without established best practices, they first need to get a clear understanding of business intelligence and start asking themselves some questions. They should find out whether the staff is effectively managing the donor pipeline, if the board has clear insight into the organization at all levels, whether real-time campaign-performance monitoring makes the effort more effective, and whether spreadsheet-based reports are the best use of staff time.
Business-intelligence technology aims to dig deep inside an organization’s IT systems and make sense of all the data stored across the organization. It allows nonprofits to solve all the “needle in a haystack” operational performance puzzles dreamt up in real time without the headaches, time and complexity of pulling and compiling manual reports. Results are returned as online interactive dashboards that make drilling into any data point as easy as the click of a mouse. But how can business intelligence be applied in the nonprofit sector?
Increase fundraising performance
Since business intelligence is only as smart as the criteria the technology is focused on analyzing, spend some time thinking about what “intelligence” will improve the organization. For example, a capital campaign might span 18 months and be organized internally by three main groups: communications, events and donor management. The information needed to monitor the entire capital campaign is very different from that needed to manage each event or the effectiveness of an e-mail program or whether donors are being managed properly. In this scenario, the business intelligence needed to monitor the capital campaign might be split into three different levels — overall, tactical and operational.
At the overall level, or mile-high view, nonprofit executives might want to see a broad overview of what is actually going on within the campaign at any time. Are donations on pace to hit the target? Are the events running over budget? How many donors are being targeted, and is it an increase from the last capital campaign? Established properly, business intelligence would allow the executives to view this information anytime they choose without having to wait for manual reports to be run, compared and refined.
At the tactical level, or campaign-management view, users narrow in on the overall view to monitor different program segments and determine how each is performing in its entirety. For example, the capital campaign’s e-mail marketing segment might include five separate mailing periods, with each period consisting of an e-mail flight each week for one month. Business intelligence would allow a nonprofit to look at each of these pieces and determine how each was performing in terms of open rates and donations collected, etc. With this information, the program manager would be able to make accurate and timely assessments as to the progress and performance of the campaign, without the time needed to pull reports manually. It can all be pulled automatically from an online dashboard.
At the operational level, or a detail view, more specific details about the campaign are provided. How many e-mails were sent? When were the e-mails sent? At what time were they distributed? All of these questions can be answered with the operational view. A nonprofit can then see, for example, that the successful campaign was kicked off Tuesday morning and the less productive campaign was kicked off Friday afternoon. With a real-time view to this level of detail, a nonprofit can spot a problem as it’s happening and have time to make adjustments while it still can have an impact on the overall donation goal. The visual intelligence offered by dashboard technology enables the agility needed to make smart decisions quickly. Because the system automatically analyzes the data, there are no extra cycles spent assessing the situation. Learning that Tuesday is a better day than Friday to send e-mails allows the team to shift its strategy to ensure more success in reaching donors the following week.
Strengthen and motivate staff
Good business-intelligence practices reach beyond reporting and can help staff stay educated and tuned in to the organization as a whole, making them an effective motivational tool. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and understanding what is happening empowers stakeholders to identify what must be done to remain successful. In the case of a capital campaign, it is critical that the target amount is met. If fundraisers are given the insight that a direct-mail initiative is not working but a phone-a-thon is bringing in the donations, within a moment’s time, actions can be taken to support more activities around phone-a-thons.
Empower the board of directors
With dashboards, compiling and analyzing a month’s worth of information can be done very quickly. And boards can be empowered to create their own dashboards to pinpoint the specific details they need. For example, a director might want to view how many people attended the annual gala and compare it to the amount of money raised at the event. Working with a library of charting options the data can be presented in various forms, enabling the director to easily see the ROI of the event.
Applying business-intelligence technology to a nonprofit is a smart upgrade to make. Now within reach for the sector, organizations can monitor themselves, their staffs and campaigns, and run more nimble fundraising programs, all with much less time, and resource commitment.
Dan Germain is vice president of customer support with Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit software provider Advanced Solutions International. Shadan Malik is president and CEO of Troy, Mich.-based business-intelligence technology provider, iDashboards.