“What question do we want to ask that we cannot answer today? And what do we want to do with that information?”
For all industries, this is a critical question. But the nonprofit and educational industries are often digitally challenged in unique ways: limited staff capacity, lack of in-house expertise, and undefined goals and strategy for data management. And most of these organizations aspire to deliver more personalized experiences to their members and have more integrated, multi-channel fundraising and engagement platforms to better serve their specific communities and populations. The nonprofit industry is complex and includes within it many subindustries. Educational institutions, donation driven organizations, and associations all fall under the larger umbrella of nonprofits. Although that diversity means that the metrics and KPIs may be different, they all share the same goal: wanting to leverage their data to grow and transform their organization.
Where should your nonprofit begin? We offer three considerations to get started.
First, at the root, business leaders need to begin to think of their organization’s data as an asset. Data is the foundation and to understand where you are going, you need to understand where you come from. It’s also important that nonprofits should understand all aspects of their business; not only understanding their donors and members, but other business dimensions like class offerings, virtual events, conventions, and products that they sell. Gaining a more holistic view of their organization can help target specific data practices and processes that may need to be improved or revamped. Understand what answers you want to obtain out of your data. What will you do with that information? The follow up question we always ask is, “in order to do what?”.
Second, do not get overwhelmed by the potentially vast amount of work needing to be done. The key to dramatic organizational change is taking an incremental approach. A multi-wave implementation allows nonprofits to avoid a multi-year, intensive overhaul of their systems and utilize a more sprint based agile process; it doesn’t have to take 6 months to move data into a new environment, it may only be a matter of weeks, meaning information delivery can happen relatively quickly. Then once that process is established, you can continue to build upon it using the foundation that you’ve already laid.
Third, gain an understanding of what is possible for your organization. Often, smaller organizations have misconceptions about the feasibility of implementing data strategy and advanced analytics. A robust data strategy and concepts like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and Big Data are not only for governments and large corporations, but they can be utilized on a middle market scale. For example, many of the widely used tools and technologies for advanced analytics are affordable, open-source, or included within other tools, like Microsoft Power BI. The hurdle isn’t cost; it may be an organization’s lack of expertise. And that’s where RSM can begin to help.
Recent cases where the BI team has stepped in included work with one nonprofit who went from not being able to answer their most fundamental business questions to exploring opportunities using advanced analytics. This organization has begun to use machine learning to predict when a donor would be likely to stop giving to their organization. In a different association, the BI team and the organization worked together to transform slow and inefficient manual Excel manipulation that wastes so much precious time and resources into a streamlined, state-of-the-art data analytics environment. With this foundation being laid, the organization began to explore the possibilities of utilizing advanced analytics and machine learning in their own organization.
CONCLUSION: If your organization is not sure about the state of its data strategy, consider asking these two questions:
- “What decisions are we making today that we feel we don’t have the data to support?”
- “How do we interact with our data today? How easy is it to obtain the information?”
Transforming the way your organization handles data is crucial to its growth and success. It provides new and more meaningful ways to improve your business process and grow your impact on the communities and people that you serve.
If you have any further questions or are looking for further guidance or resources, please reach out to the BI Team and RSM.