BI-Tools for Nonprofit Reporting

By Bennett Donovan

Are BI Tools Keeping Up With Nonprofits?

Predictive analytics, data visualization, point-and-click report building, intuitive ad-hoc querying–these and other Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities are high on the wish list of almost every nonprofit organization. Implementing these should be easy enough, right? Flip on the TV and IBM’s Watson is advising Serena Williams like a droid butler. Need directions to the grocery store? Siri can guide you. Don’t want to leave home? Alexa can order for you. Want to know what your constituents are doing? Well…

Behind the proverbial curtain, a whole lot actually has to happen to structure data in a way to answer an organization’s specific questions. Google may be ready for the question, “What is the temperature in Oslo?” However, it’s not ready for the question, “How much did John Doe donate to the New York Public Library in FY 2015?” Even when the data is available, fundraising databases don’t always structure it for ease of reporting. Certainly, poor data quality can skew results. Even more, legacy reporting needs and organizational nuances complicate the process. Surely, it’s no coincidence that the custom report writing business is alive and well.

Evaluating Reports with

Although reporting standardization across the nonprofit landscape remains elusive, real progress is being made in web-based BI tools that provide organizations with access to their data and features for assessing it. Take for example, one such application that the roundCorner Managed Services team has recently been evaluating. We have connected Looker to several test instances of our roundData data warehouse, where customers have access to snapshots of their NGOC instances, archived data, and other program-related data that may not need to exist in the CRM. So far, the results have been promising.

With Looker, technical users can join database tables to create “Models,” which non-technical users can navigate quickly to find the data they need. Using a point-and-click interface, users can choose fields, create filters, utilize pivots, and run reports. They can save their queries as “Looks” and share them across the organization. Different visualization options exist and can feed into stored dashboards as well. In addition, Custom SQL can be written, saved, and retrieved in the UI for more complex reporting needs.

The Future of BI Tools

While tools like Looker offer great functionality, they cannot fix poorly structured or maintained data on the backend. Regardless of the tool, poor performance in the database will translate into slowly running queries on the front end. Still, it is encouraging to see progress in the areas of easy setup, user access, and built-in BI capabilities that become more intuitive with each release. Cloud-based BI tools that overlay nonprofit data nimbly and powerfully are here. Droid butlers can’t be too far off.

About the Author

Bennett Donovan is a Senior Project Manager for roundCorner’s Managed Services team. With 15+ years of experience in nonprofit technology, Bennett implements NGO Connect for enterprise nonprofits so they can build and nurture life-long relationships with constituents.

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