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Transforming nonprofits through business intelligence

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By Rhoni Rakos |February 29, 2024

In today’s world, data drives so much for nonprofit organizations. Whether it’s to improve member retention with greater personalization or target areas to improve in your member experience, understanding the habits of your members and supporters is vital.

Business intelligence (BI) is the process of making sense of that data to identify trends, predict outcomes and inform decisions at the highest level. For the nonprofit sector – where being able to accurately forecast donation patterns or make more predictable membership renewal is always a key focus – business intelligence has the potential to completely transform how organizations operate.

Transforming nonprofits through business intelligence

The key benefits of business intelligence for nonprofits

The key benefits of business intelligence for nonprofitsBusiness intelligence brings several benefits to nonprofit organizations – in a nutshell, it gives you the ability to predict where your organization will be in the future, as well as minimize potential business risk by mapping trends and providing more predictability.

But those benefits are very broad, so let’s break it down. For nonprofits, one of the most significant applications for business intelligence is to examine the habits and patterns of your current audience and predict what those habits might look like in the future.

For example, you could look at people’s previous donation patterns and work out how much you can expect them to give to certain campaigns or events. Or you could use BI to predict the income you’re likely to make from membership renewal, as well as which members are most at risk of not renewing.

Overcoming challenges in nonprofit data analysis

Overcoming challenges in nonprofit data analysisDespite the potential that business intelligence has to transform how organizations operate, several challenges often hold nonprofits back from implementing it themselves.

1. How to get started with BI software

One of the biggest challenges for nonprofits getting into business intelligence is simply knowing what you need to begin. The term “business intelligence” can sound like you need to invest in powerful, specialist tools to even begin, and that’s a daunting prospect if you just want to experiment and see what benefits might be there.

But while you do need tools to get started with business intelligence, you don’t necessarily have to buy anything new in order to dip your toe in the water. If you already have Salesforce in your ecosystem, then you already have a market-leading tool to begin your business intelligence journey with.

Because Salesforce is designed to be integrated as a core part of your organization and your tech ecosystem, it’s well positioned to help you dig into things like donation patterns, what content is being engaged with most and which members are at risk of not renewing. And because BI is an area that Salesforce is heavily investing in, you’ll continue to have cutting-edge BI features and integrations as you get deeper into the world of predictions and analytics.

One of the leading tools to pair with Salesforce and leverage its BI potential is Tableau. Tableau helps you combine the data from you Salesforce platform with data from other components in you ecosystem, giving you greater visibility across your organization and more ability to customize how you present and analyze your data.

If your organization doesn’t have Salesforce yet, you still have options to get started. You will likely have access to Power BI via your Office 365 suite, and this can give you a low-cost option to prototype business intelligence in your nonprofit. While it might not be as tailored to analyzing customer patterns as Salesforce, it does give you a starting point to dip your toes into BI and see the benefits applied to your nonprofit.

2. Creating a culture of BI in your organization

When it comes to business intelligence, your software isn’t the only part of the equation to solve. The people operating those tools are just as crucial, as is the strategy behind your approach to BI.

For your efforts in BI to be successful in transforming your nonprofit, you need to weave business intelligence into everything you do. That starts with having a clear data strategy that not only outlines what you’re going to be doing with BI, but also the reasons behind why you’re trying to analyze certain trends and patterns, why doing so is key to your organization’s goals, and how you’re going to monitor success.

You also need to think about the people who are going to be implementing your BI strategy. Part of that is a question of resourcing.

Nonprofits don’t always have someone focused exclusively on business intelligence and trend reporting, and BI is seen as more of an add-on to someone’s role rather than a position in itself. That might work out if you’re just getting started with BI and want to see the benefits before committing too many resources, but it’s not sustainable in the long run.

If you’re planning to make business intelligence a fundamental part of your nonprofit’s operations, you need to see this as a key resource hire, and allocate the proper time and attention towards it.

But you also need to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction. To give BI the best chance of lifting your organization as a whole, your strategy should be applied across all of your products and business units, to ensure that everyone is approaching it consistently and not in silos.

3. Building a case for investing in BI

When you’re talking about bringing in additional hires or more specialized software, one of the challenges that arises from that is how to make the case for your nonprofit to invest in business intelligence.

This is where making a start with the tools and resources you already have at hand becomes crucial. If all you have is Power BI and someone with the time to figure the basics out, that at least gives you the chance to begin reaping some of the benefits of business intelligence, which you can then use to strengthen your case for investing in Salesforce or a dedicated BI hire.

The future of business intelligence for nonprofits

The future of business intelligence for nonprofitsAs business intelligence becomes such a crucial component of nonprofits and other organizations, it’s no surprise that providers like Salesforce are investing heavily in developing their tools.

As data is at the heart of business intelligence, data cleansing and maintaining data hygiene are absolutely essential, and the future of BI will involve more tools to aid in this area.

The more reliable and unbiased data is, the better the results will be when you’re casting your gaze into the future and trying to predict trends. That’s why Salesforce is currently investing in its automation and algorithmic tools to make identifying data cleansing issues and patterns more efficient.

However, automation and algorithms won’t mean the future of business intelligence becomes straightforward. Errors and inconsistencies can still creep in, no matter how advanced data hygiene tools become. If you want to ensure that your organization continues to reap the full benefit from business intelligence, you have to make sure that your focus stays on putting the right people and resources in place, building a clear BI strategy and applying it across your entire organization.

Whether you’re just getting started with business intelligence or you’re looking to build on your BI practices with more advanced tools and processes, it might be time to find out if Salesforce can save your team time and transform how you fulfill your mission. Fill out a contact form to get started.

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Rhoni Rakos
Transforming nonprofits through business intelligence

Rhoni is a digital strategist and customer experience designer with over 10 years in the field designing digital experiences using user-centered research and design strategies. She has focused her career on mission-driven organizations, non-profits and associations, ensuring they using technology to maximize their impact. Rhoni is excited to be developing fusionSpan's Digital Strategy specialization, helping organizations harness the power of intuitive and powerful experiences across their digital ecosystems.

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