January 12, 2015

How and Where to Get Started with Business Intelligence

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

Infographics and data visualizations are everywhere. Your board and colleagues are sending you articles with charts and recommending you do things based on a tweet and a cool graph. Like everyone, you like these sparkly visualizations, but you hesitate to make changes to your organization based on a few interactive circle graphs. What can you do and how will this add value?

If you are like most nonprofit executives, you didn’t start working in the nonprofit sector to analyze data but instead to change the world with your mission. You’ve done well in the past based on your intuition and feedback from your constituents. Learning about business intelligence (BI) and applying it to your nonprofit’s mission wasn’t something you thought you’d ever do, but you are starting to realize that it’s time: time to start learning about business intelligence and how it can help you and your organization achieve your unique goals.

Business intelligence is, at its core, analysis aimed at determining the key performance indicators that drive your organization’s success and what your organization can do to affect those indicators. I have short video definition and nonprofit example here.

The goal of our session is to provide you with a practical approach for getting started with business intelligence and an understanding of how to use BI techniques to drive your success.  We hope that with a combination of instructions, examples, and small breakout sessions, you’ll be able to start using BI in your organization and start reaping the benefits. Specifically, we hope that you will leave with three things: (1) a better understanding of BI and its value; (2) two or three action items that start immediately; and (3) an idea of appropriate tools for your organization.

This session will be theory- and technology-light and example-heavy. We will have a plethora of real world examples, and we’ll try to keep the buzzwords to a minimum.

Some of the specific topics we’ll cover:

  • BI basics: We’ll use a few simple real-world examples that will get you familiar with the key terms, what they mean, and why they are important
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs): Why KPIs are critical to your organization’s success and mission and how to use business intelligence to determine what drives your KPIs
  • Finding the KPIs in your organization: Although every nonprofit is unique, many have similar KPIs. We’ll help you get started idneitfying your KPIs
  • Driving the results: Determining what you can do to affect the key drivers of your organization is why business intelligence is important. We’ll review some simple processes that will help you get started


  • Software:  To get started with BI, you don’t need any special software. In fact, we recommend that you wait to purchase any software until you have a better sense of your organization’s specific needs. We will review some software solutions and how/when you could utilize them
  • Data visualization: Infographics, interactive graphs, and charts can be excellent ways to provide critical measurements in a way that others can quickly understand and relate. Creating these visualizations for your key data points will enable you to communicate them effectively to key constituents so that they understand what is important to your organization


  • Expect failure: Understanding what drives success in your organization is tough stuff, and you should not expect to get it right the first time. Expect failure, but also expect to learn from it. It is important to measure and adjust periodically
  • Common pitfalls: We’ll identify common pitfalls and how to recognize and avoid them

Lisa and I are very excited to be leading this session and share with you what we’ve learned while working together on business intelligence at the West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church. We’ll be sharing one of our latest BI inspired tools, “Breakthrough Goals.” We’ll also be sharing our processes, struggles, wins, and frustrations.

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Paul Keogan
Paul Keogan is Founder and Principal at BackOffice Thinking, has been a leading technology consultant for the past 20 years. Since 2006, with the founding of BackOffice Thinking, he has worked primarily with nonprofit organizations. Paul’s passion is to transform his clients’ use of technology to better serve and engage their constituents, grow their donor base, and run their organizations more effectively. With the BackOffice Thinking team, he has led numerous software selection, design, and implementation projects throughout the U.S.