Our ability to raise money is now tied more than ever to the degree that decision makers can use real time information, trend analysis and appropriate metrics to monitor results and activity to move the organization in the right direction.

However, many of us struggle with information delivery and sometimes even the most basic reports and statistics can seem to be lacking in relevancy, depth and breadth.

Technical staff struggle with their queues and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete simple reports let alone more complex analysis and to find a vision for information needed in the future.

New report requests can take days or weeks to complete and are often subject to a lot of iterations. Fundraising is an opportunity driven business and we can be overwhelmed with ad-hoc reporting that is essential to being able to ask those important “what ifs”. Our standard reporting is continually questioned on accuracy and credibility.

Consider some of the following questions. Your answers will help you evaluate whether you should make a significant change in how you’re delivering information to your user community. At the extreme end, the questions can point to areas where you may be in trouble and need to make immediate improvements.

• How would your user community describe the credibility, accuracy and timeliness of the information they receive? How would they rate the ability of your technical staff in providing information that informs the business requirements?

• Are you getting your information in real time, or do you receive it two to three weeks after the transactions, events or activities have taken place?

• Does the effort you expend on delivery of information match the revenue streams for your organization? If the majority of your revenue is from major donors, do you have the information you need to improve the major gift program or are you spending an inordinate amount of time on information for other programs that don’t bring in the majority of the donations?

• Are the majority of your reports static or do they have prompts and dropdowns to allow users to make flexible choices in the information they wish to receive?

• Are your users able to subscribe to reports and receive information “on demand” through subscriptions in a format of their choice?

• Do your reports have multi-year trends or are they mostly snapshots of a particular point in time? Are you a list based culture or do you use dashboards and key performance indicators to focus and inform you on the health of your business?

• Do the majority of your reports focus on financial statistics or do you correlate results with activities such as donor visits to help manage individual fundraiser performance?

• Are you leveraging modern approaches to information discovery and delivery such as data cubes or visual analytic tools? If you are using these techniques, do you have business analysts with the skills to interpret complex information?

• Are you utilizing a specialized data warehouse or reporting environment to build your reports effectively and efficiently so that business rules are encapsulated in one place and information is extracted in a consistent and automated fashion?

• Do you currently have a mobile strategy for information delivery?

• Do you have a report catalog or inventory where users can find information on reports?

• Do you include a comprehensive orientation of your reporting environment as part of the on boarding process for new employees?

• Do you find that information is subject to a lot of time consuming rework in spreadsheets before it can be deployed? What is the extent to which your user community is manipulating or recompiling information they receive?

• Do you have a systematic and formalized report request process in place and metrics to evaluate time frames for completion and the ratios of ad-hoc report requests to standard requests? Does the request process dovetail with the way your analysts actually write the programs or scripts to provide the information?

• Do you have regularly scheduled training, a glossary of commonly used terms and an in-depth and appropriate orientation for new employees on your information environment?

• Are you taking advantage of sources of information in different systems inside your organization? For example, are you able to print fund balances from the financial system on fundraising reports from the fundraising system without having to manually recompile this information? Are there other data sources that you would like to integrate from a reporting perspective?

• Are you utilizing external sources of data such as wealth demographics to qualify and segment prospects and are these types of ratings integrated directly into your reporting?

• Do you track report usage so you know which reports are being used?

• Have you integrated data mining into your information and if so are the models that have been created easily updated and are the scores part of your standard reports?

• Does your information provide significant and continual reinforcement of data cleansing and data integrity along with the appropriate trend analysis to monitor your progress in improving the health of your database?

• Do you have documented information standards in place so that the same look and feel is consistent across information types and formats?

• Do you have the appropriate staffing and expense budget in place to meet the current and anticipated future reporting needs for the organization?

• Does your technical staff have the appropriate skills and tools to take advantage of current reporting and information delivery techniques? Are you providing them with the appropriate training so that the right skills inventory is being built up over time? Do you have any succession planning for key reporting staff?

• Do you have the appropriate technical infrastructure in place to be able to deliver information? This needs to include both server side and desktop capabilities.

• Are you leveraging expertise and ability in other departments to help you with your own department’s information delivery?

• Is your online and social media performance integrated into your standard reporting?

• Does your reporting include benchmarking or competitive analysis with peer organizations in your competitive market space?

Providing a robust and comprehensive information delivery environment is not easy task and needs to be approached in a holistic manner.

For example, if you don’t have a great report request form, you can end up with a lot of re-work on what can be a simple request. If you don’t have metrics on which reports are being run, you may be creating reports that are not used. If your user community is reworking information in spreadsheets, what do you do to remove this type of inefficiency? If you don’t have the right training and tools it won’t be easy to tie it all together.

It can be a complex problem to tie it all together.

You may have the right answers for some of the questions but have significant gaps in others. This is normal. Gaps do provide a foundation and a first step in evaluating where you are so you can start on the journey to make changes – with the right sponsors, plan and priorities.

Think of these changes as an “information conversion”. It’s like a successful system conversion and can improve efficiency and effectiveness across your entire organization and prepare everyone for the challenges of the age that we’re in.

The idea of “information at your fingertips” isn’t new – but it’s more possible and more probable than it’s ever been.

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Brian W Dowling has invested more than 25 years working in advancement services, development services, finance and administration and operations for nonprofit organizations.

His management experience includes: technology and information systems, software conversions, gifts and records processing/management, prospect research, document imaging, web sites, online programs, finance, investments, working with senior management teams, strategic planning, boards and committees and other duties that help organizations manage their fundraising, constituent engagement and sustainability.

Brian’s current role of Senior Vice President for Finance and Information Systems at the VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation started in 2008.

Brian worked previously at the University of Michigan and was responsible for managing the technological infrastructure, gift processing and records administration for the Office of University Development. This was in support of a $3.1 billion campaign with annual fundraising revenues of $250-$370 million. The database contained over 1,000,000 entities and over 184,000 gift transactions were processed annually.

Prior to that, Brian worked at The University of Toronto. The University’s $1 billion plus campaign was Canada’s largest and most successful philanthropic effort in higher education. The database of over 700,000 entities supported a large-scale decentralized advancement operation.

Brian also worked at a number of other institutions and businesses in the United States and Canada, where he gained knowledge and perspectives of managing in small, medium and large shops. This experience included multiple system conversions, website development, budgetary and financial responsibilities, operations management and more.

He provides consulting services in Canada, the United States, Asia and Australia, has written many articles, is a published author and speaks at conferences and through webinars. He was a founding board member of the Association of Advancement Services Professionals and a founding committee member of the BC Blackbaud Users Group.
My Organization(s)
SupportingFundraising.Com, SupportingAdvancement.Com, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation

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