Business Intelligence can improve nonprofit and association decision making.  Most of us are familiar with the scenario where we extract information from a variety of different systems that each serve their own purpose, but are not integrated.  In recent years, there has been a push to integrate systems or to try to put everything into one multi-purpose system, like an AMS (Association Management System) or CRM (Customer Relationship Management).  There are certainly benefits to this especially for the front-end users and customer service representatives.  However, there are challenges as well.  For example, it often will slow down a transactional system to store every email that was ever sent to a member.  It may also be cost prohibitive to have a real-time integration between all of your systems.

A Better Way

time_to_goTo evaluate if this situation is optimal, ask yourself if right now you could accurately measure engagement across all channels and programs.  The goal is to not only enable you to increase that involvement, but also to clearly demonstrate the positive impact your association or nonprofit has on your sphere of influence.  I’ve often found that this broad level of analysis can be elusive.  When your board asks for this information, you may have to spend days pulling information from all of your systems and trying to come up with some form of analysis.  But don’t forget to save those complex spreadsheets and don’t forget how they were created so that they can once again be recreated next month!  This kind of activity is what makes me cringe and think, there has to be a better way!  The exciting news is that there is a better way and it’s not as hard as you might think.

Private Sector Paved the Way

The private and commercial sector has already set the stage.  It’s like having a big brother or sister that pushes the boundaries, makes mistakes, and figures out the best way to excel.  Now associations and nonprofits can learn from their mistakes, modify their path to meet our unique needs, and off we go.  The commercial sector has proven the value of Business Intelligence (BI).  Which is, simply stated, transforming data into meaningful information that can be used to make good decisions.  However, remember that the technology is just the enabler – the “tools” to get the job done – it’s people who are the differentiators.

BI can be used to bring together disparate data sets so that historical analysis and predictive modeling can guide decision-making.  It can also be used to supplement your standard customer data with social media content, including customer’s interests, purchasing behavior, and social circles.  What if you could find those customers who spend very little money with your association, yet enjoy being a part of it, and also have a huge circle of influence?  You could reach out to them to help promote your organization.  BI can also identify the key metrics which will help determine overall effectiveness in your space.

BI is Expected

I’m sure you’ve heard about Business Intelligence by now – it’s been a buzz word for a long time and in fact is almost overused.  But the time to act is now.  If your competitors aren’t using it, they will be soon and have you stopped to think that the private sector is a competitor these days?  Especially with respect to content, education and networking.  Chances are your customers are already using BI (or analytics), even if they don’t realize it.  Each time they purchase something at a large online retailer and see things like “other customers have bought this” or “you might also like”, they are reaping the benefits of BI.  It’s something they’ve come to expect.  They also want a custom, user-centric experience from you.  In order to provide this to them, you must first understand them.  You likely already have that information, you just need to harness it.

Get Started

To get started, take a look at my previous blog, Preflight Checklist for Association Business Intelligence. This blog outlines a few preliminary steps you can take now on your path to using BI and making data-driven decisions.