In the second it takes to say “data,” people around the world generate about 10,000 tweets, make 1,805 Skype calls, upload five hours of YouTube video and send more than 2.4 million emails. Globally, we produce 2.5 exabytes (or 2.5 billion gigabytes) of data in a day, and IDC predicts we’ll generate 40 zettabytes — that’s 40 trillion gigabytes — of data by 2020.
Among this trove of data is information to help nonprofits analyze and fine-tune their organizational processes, create targeted fundraising campaigns, effectively coordinate staff and volunteer deployments, efficiently compile reports and comply with regulatory requirements. But how to get at it? This useful data doesn’t generally come neatly packaged in databases.
That’s where analytics comes in. It’s a process that employs tools to gather those ever-growing volumes of disparate data types from various sources, process them at record speeds, and analyze and use that data to gain new organizational insights. The concept has been around for decades, but it has been reborn with new, more powerful tools to harness today’s data explosion.
Nonprofits run the gamut when it comes to analytics. Some are just getting started, applying business intelligence to their budgeting and forecasting processes, while others may be far along the business intelligence continuum and looking into ways to pull additional unstructured data to enhance existing predictive analytics models. What follows are some of the areas in which analytics can help nonprofits.
Budgeting and forecasting: The annual spreadsheet shuffle has become a dreaded yet inevitable reality for nonprofits. It’s an all-hands-on-deck process aimed at pulling data from different departments, systems and people. Analytics tools can help nonprofits eliminate the challenge of managing the budgeting, planning and forecasting processes through dozens of unsynchronized spreadsheets. Instead, they centralize the data and simplify collaboration, enabling sophisticated “what-if” modeling to enable complex planning and analysis. Integrated reports and scorecarding enable organizations to monitor progress toward goals in real time.
Enterprise reporting: The challenge for many organizations is not that they don’t have data, but rather that they can’t get to the data that they need when they need it. Data is in several repositories across multiple applications, and getting one “source of truth” takes a herculean manual effort. Rather than sift through various data silos, organizations can use enterprise reporting tools to consolidate multiple data sources into a single data model and get a global view of operations. They can get a better sense of who is using their products and services, as well as how they are using them.
Looking at past internal and external data, nonprofits can plan for the future. Analytics can help them spot patterns, address issues going forward and set goals that improve upon historic metrics.
Using graphs, charts and animation, customizable dashboards help users visualize data. Managers can create interactive dashboards, run queries and pull reports based on their needs. They can drill down to facilitate insight into operations never before possible.
Fundraising and targeted outreach: Fundraising is the lifeblood of nonprofits, so it needs to be handled carefully. If an organization invests too few resources into fundraising, it faces budget shortfalls. Too many, and they run the risk of cutting too deeply into revenue. Courting potential large donors is labor intensive, but blanket mailings can be costly and ineffective.
Organizations need to work smarter and target outreach efforts and campaigns to those most likely to donate. Predictive analytics can identify with a high degree of accuracy which prospects are most likely to give. Leveraging such tools can help organizations prioritize high-touch personal outreach and reduce overall marketing and outreach expenses to maximize returns.
Regulatory compliance: Nonprofits are bound by regulations governing the types of data they collect, how they use it and what to report. Business intelligence can help organizations gather, organize and analyze data; compile reports; and comply with requirements.
Improving global insight: Analytics can be used in all of these ways and more to help organizations get a global perspective of everything from staffing and asset management to fundraising and forecasting. In addition to consolidating and making sense of existing data, analytic tools can make new data sources available to organizations, providing unprecedented insight into operations.
To learn how analytics tools gather and make sense of relevant information, download the white paper "Better Analytics to Boost Nonprofits."