How and Where to Get Started with Business Intelligence

In 2015, business intelligence software became more accessible and less expensive for nonprofits. This really couldn’t have come at a better time because grantmakers are also expecting more analysis to ensure funds are spent wisely.

The use of business intelligence will continue to grow and evolve in 2016.  Two major trends will be:

  1. Using business intelligence to measure outcomes instead of participation. For example, determining which events led to increased engagement or donations amongst participants will be more important than measuring the number of participants at your events.

  2. Using business intelligence to predict outcomes and find trends. With new tools on the market like Google’s new prediction API, nonprofits can use historical data to predict outcomes of future marketing and  social media campaigns.

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.

We hope that those who attended our 15NTC session started using BI in their organizations and have since reaped the benefits with: (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 their organizations.

Our session was theory- and technology-light and example-heavy.

Some of the specific topics we covered:

  • BI basics: A few simple real-world examples to get 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 an organization’s KPIs
  • Finding the KPIs in one’s organization: Although every nonprofit is unique, many have similar KPIs
  • Driving the results: Determining what individuals can do to affect the key drivers of the organization is why business intelligence is important.


  • 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.
  • 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: It’s critical to learn how to recognize and avoid them

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

Paul Keogan
Founder and Principal
BackOffice Thinking
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.