Interview with a CRM Expert: Business Intelligence

Interview with a CRM Expert: Business Intelligence

This post is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared on npENGAGE.

I’m so excited to kick off my “Interview with a CRM Expert Series” and particularly pumped that we get to start with one of my favorite topics: BI, a.k.a. Business Intelligence. Today’s featured guest is Jay Nathan, Director of Platform Product Management at Blackbaud. Jay brings more than 12 years of experience in software, CRM and business intelligence with more than seven years working directly with nonprofits of all sizes. Jay also frequently blogs about topics such as software product development, entrepreneurship, books, and the wonders of the digital age.

The Interview with Jay Nathan of Blackbaud

Tiffany: Jay, thanks for joining us in the CRM Expert Series. Our readers are interested in knowing more about Business Intelligence. Tell us about the reaction you normally receive when you talk about BI… do people seem to understand what it is or how it is used?

Jay: Thanks for having me today. It’s an interesting question. Many people think of BI as a technical discipline focused on data consolidation, visualization, dashboards and managerial reporting. That’s one aspect of it, but those things tend to be retrospective in nature; they help us understand what’s already happened.

Where BI becomes more interesting is when we find ways to leverage data for proactive decision making and to influence organizational behavior to make an impact on revenue. For example, finding cohorts of direct mail responsive donors who outperform their peers, prioritizing campaign fundraising efforts, making timely contact with high potential donors, and determining how much we should be asking donors to give.

Tiffany: This is an intriguing concept: using BI to help predict things that may happen. Let’s dig in a little more: How BI can be used?

Jay: Organizations can use existing data to uncover additional value, although it usually takes some dedicated staff to identify and act on these insights. But, data tells a story. We know that it costs up to six times more to recruit new donors than to retain existing ones. We also know that new donor acquisition rates across all nonprofit sectors are in consistent decline. So it turns out retention is key to growing the top line for many organizations, and we can leverage our data to achieve this.

Let’s talk a few examples. Research by Chuck Longfield, Blackbaud’s Chief Scientist, indicates that a donor who phones your organization to let you they’ve moved are 11 times more likely to leave a bequest. Would your Planned Giving department know about those interactions? Could they take action? Having this type of visibility isn’t valuable unless we’re willing to act upon it.

Tiffany: Last question, Jay. Tell our readers more about how they can get started. How can they decide if BI is right for them? What are the steps to take?

Jay: First, BI is for everyone. Any organization can become data driven, but you must choose to make it a priority. Organizations should look at staffing this work as an investment to increase the yield on existing fundraising activities. Beyond that, you can start by managing the quality of your data and standardizing data capture and record keeping. Next, use the scientific method to test new ways of segmenting your data. Here is a simple action plan for getting started:

  • Define and execute small-scale and inexpensive tests, a.k.a. “little bets”
  • Evaluate early and often what is working
  • Scale the tests that yield positive outcomes to a larger data set and project

Always be on the lookout for the types of interactions that yield results and work to automate an organizational response. For those who have a CRM or a central donor management system, build and use queries that check for the occurrence of significant interactions such as large, unsolicited online donations and change of address notification calls. Run these queries on a regular basis and test new ideas (“little bets”) all the time.

For more practical examples and recommendations, I encourage you to read “Data is gold. But only if you can get to its real value.” Also check out other resources and ideas coming out of Chuck’s work and the Blackbaud Innovation Lab.

Business intelligence is about much more than reporting on the past, it’s about finding the best opportunities for the future. All nonprofits can start taking steps today to become more data driven.

In addition to the resources in this article, take a look at Heller Consulting’s recent paper, “Business Intelligence Applications for the Nonprofit Sector”.

Does your organization rely on Business Intelligence to make decisions? Do you have a formal process to gather it? Let us know in the comments below.


The Connected Cause is a place for experts in the nonprofit online space to share perspective, offer guidance and promote best practices for using today’s technology effectively. Our goal is to provide a comprehensive source of collaborative thought leadership for the nonprofit industry.

One comment

  1. I love how many businesses are now mining their existing data to find patterns on how they can improve their retention rate, rather than just go after new customers. Great interview with Jay!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *