Chapter Leadership Brief 5.11.18

By President-Elect Steven G. Jacobson 

How Smart Is Your Organization?

In the last issue of Fundraising Matters, Chapter Secretary Jill Scibilia wrote a fantastic piece about who was the smartest person in the room.  I thought that I would build on that concept by asking who is the smartest nonprofit?

Nonprofits collect mountains of data about donors, members and supporters. The typical nonprofit has a set of “go to” reports that track a number of metrics.  Unfortunately, for many organizations, these reports can take a lot of manual effort to create, can be subject to human error (and interpretation) and tend to document the past.  Looking in the rearview mirror can help you see where you’ve been, but smart organizations have an eye on the future.  They need to use data to inform their thinking, make key business decisions and move their organization forward.  Smart organizations use business intelligence (BI) to analyze their fundraising performance and learn from it.

Many articles have been written about why nonprofits should use BI (largely to become smarter by leveraging their data), but it remains a struggle for many because they don’t know where to begin.  The task can be daunting.  But it’s manageable if you take it bit by bit.  As the saying goes, “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”  So, here are five easy steps you can take to make your fundraising organization smarter.

1. Define – Start small. Identify five measures that are indicative of your fundraising performance. An obvious one might be total money raised.  But what about more specific goals that you want to achieve?  Perhaps you’re trying to increase the average gift size? Or perhaps your objective is to build a qualified major gift prospect pool?  We typically refer to these as Key Performance Indicators or KPIs.  Your goal would be to track these KPIs to see if the actions you’re taking are moving the needle.

2. Collect — Think about all of the fundraising and engagement data at your organization that you might care about—information about donors, members, gifts, pledges, fundraising campaigns, website visits, etc. This data could be saved in multiple locations and in multiple formats. Identifying and collecting this disparate data is the first step. You need a plan for how you’re going to pull the data together into a central location—commonly referred to as a data warehouse.

3. 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.  As you do this, keep in mind that you can track and report on just about anything, but you should only concentrate on what’s truly important.  Don’t overcomplicate!

4. Analyze — Data warehouses themselves are not the visible end-product—they are just the storage of data from which you’ll take useful snippets of information to discover something new. In addition to measuring your KPIs, you’ll be able to do some data discovery. You may 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.

5. Visualize —"A boring data table is worth a thousand words" said no one ever. You and your board need to quickly see the results of the analysis.  Can you convey the information in a thought-provoking, yet easy to grasp manner?  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? A good BI tool can help you do this.

So, now you’re well on your way to helping your organization become smarter!  But another way would be to soak up the educational content at Fundraising Day in New York on Friday, June 22, at the Marriott Marquis.  We’ll have 11 separate educational tracks, ranging from the Essential Basics of Fundraising to Corporate and Foundation Giving.  Bring back tons of knowledge to your colleagues and truly make your nonprofit the smartest!



Fundraising Day in New York 2019

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