Author: Nikolai Pavlov, PMP
I started my professional career in human social services, working with the homeless population in Edmonton, Canada. As a front-line care worker, I was involved in the day-to-day operations of a homeless shelter, provided direct care to clients and responded to their needs. It was a high-paced and stressful, yet very rewarding job and I saw the fruits of my work every day, in people’s smiles, their sincere gratitude, and the genuine feeling of adding value to the community.
That was years ago. Today, while learning about data analysis and visualization, I’m naturally looking back at my first job and can’t help but become convinced that business intelligence (BI) should be a go to solution for all non-profit organizations that want to level up their operations and stay ahead of the game.
As more businesses are turning to BI to support their key management decisions and improve operations, so should do non-profit organizations. Non-profits have historically received criticism for mismanagement of funds, high administrative costs and assumed incompetence. Furthermore, the sector is often seen as less accountable and competitive than for-profit businesses.
In my opinion, one of the most effective ways to deal with these issues for a non-profit (or any kind of business for that matter) is to integrate a BI solution. I can already anticipate strong objections thrown at me. In the non-profit world, every saved dollar matters and this guy wants us to spend more money on some tech stuff? It’s a fair question, let me elaborate on this below.
Now, one of the most exciting opportunities is that the three leading BI services – Power BI, Tableau and Qlik – all provide their products to non-profits for free. The leaders of these software companies realized that technology alone cannot save all the world’s problems and decided to partner with non-profits to empower organizations working at the forefront of social work and charitable causes. This is definitely a great chance for non-profits around the world to jump at the opportunity and start using BI.
A well-planned decision to embrace BI can amplify an organization’s impact, sharpen its strategic views and bring more transparency and cost-savings. In return, the improved transparency leads to increased trust and stakeholder satisfaction.
Another key aspect for non-profits is staff and volunteer motivation. With the help of BI, front-line workers and volunteers can better visualize all the positive effects of their involvement and boost further public participation.
From my own experience I can tell that it was hard to see the big picture of our everyday work. The organization certainly brings a lot of value to the community, but the inability to visualize the impact of my daily work in the grand scheme of things had definitely hindered my motivation at times. I wanted to know the numbers: how many people we had helped this year compared to last year, what was a success rate of finding affordable housing after the use of our services, age and ethnic composition of the clients, and other key measures. Without knowing these numbers I often felt like we had a lack of clear direction in future.
Surely, non-profit organizations gather data. However, when it comes to making key management decisions, oftentimes, leaders rely on their past experiences and gut feeling. From the administrative point of view, things like monitoring projects success rates, communication, volunteer participation, tracking donations, procurement, and keeping in check a budget will all improve with the introduction of BI.
The story of The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) can serve as a perfect example of how BI integration improved the work of a non-profit. Since its foundation in 1988, EGPAF worked to prevent HIV infection and eliminating AIDS among infants through various initiatives and programs. Several years ago, Microsoft partnered with EGPAF which improved the company’s use of available data, helping to better visualize the efficiency and reach of its programs, as well as communicate EGPAF’s mission and values to a larger audience.
“The HIV virus is elusive. It’s menacing. It’s stubborn. Data for us is like a flashlight in the night. Data allows us to do our job in a better way,” said the company’s President and CEO Chip Lyons.
Using visual dashboards, which are often simply made by merging multiple Excel sheets, can make a big difference and help organizations to create persuasive stories about their work. For non-profits, whose work is mission-related and depends on external funding, a better storytelling and larger public outreach can be a difference between success and failure.
As we’re moving into an increasingly high-paced, big data environment, in which some of us may not have time or opportunities to breakdown data into smaller details, being able to see real-time, short and accurate visual reports can go a long way. After all, we all know that a good picture is worth a thousand words.
Disclaimer: the views and opinions of an author expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Centida.