Analytics: It's About More Than Just the Data | npENGAGE

Analytics: It’s About More Than Just the Data

By on Nov 5, 2014


Using analytics to promote growth

This post was originally featured in Advancing Philanthropy 


As organizations look for more efficient ways to make, keep and grow relationships, bring in more money, measure outcomes and demonstrate impact, analytics become a key enabler.

What is “Analytics”? 

For brevity let’s decide that it is about technology, techniques and processes for understanding what’s in your data and driving your business practices.  Analytics can help to determine trends, prescribe actions and responses, and provide a solid foundation for data-driven decision making.

In order for the true benefit of analytics to be achieved, your entire organization needs key decision makers who embrace the gathering, analyzing and frequent reviewing of data.  An organization driven by analytics requires leaders who leverage the tools, techniques and processes as a flexible, mutable guide for driving efficiency and results.  To achieve that end requires careful thought, planning and focus on the people who will have to change.  While this sounds like a clear “no brainer”, organizations often struggle to implement these types of data-driven decisions.  Often a shift in thinking and processes is needed. In any solutions effort comprised of “technology, processes and people” where this degree of change is required, the “people” must be engaged, educated and involved in the ultimate solution that is put in place. The careful and thoughtful introduction of an analytics culture is worth the preparation if you are to have a successful journey.  Analytics can change the way you move forward and improve your results.

To begin the setup for analytics implantation, broad based questions are in order.

Do we have good data to analyze?

Where is it? Who uses it and for what and with what frequency?

Most of us want to trust what comes “out of the computer,” but our experiences show us that trust needs to be earned.  Data must often be cleaned up before you can consider a technology choice to help in analysis.  The technology is merely a tool, an enabler. The other important enablers are the people and processes involved.  Cleanup need not be burdensome. Vendor partners are often your best ally in ensuring good data hygiene is in place.

You also need to know what you have and how it is being used and by whom.  In order to move to a future state you need to deeply understand the current data types, uses and questions being answered.  Then you need to decide what questions you want to ask and answer.  That step of clearly defining what your expectations are is a critical element in the process.

Do we have the capabilities and skills in-house to do the analysis?

Do we know what questions we want/need to answer? What do we expect from the organization in leveraging analytics?

You can’t just assume that if you acquire an analytics tool that your organization is immediately able and skilled enough to use it.  You may even need to acquire the initial skills to actually draw inference and meaning from the information the tool provides.  It’s not rocket science but it does require an analytical mind, disciplined in the rigor of data analysis, capable of explaining what it all means and making recommendations on opportunities, risks and alternative options. At this point in the planning process organizations often take a smaller step and engage with a partner that has proprietary tools, skills and experience to do analytics work for them.  This allows the benefit of skilled analysis and interpretation using your data.  With the support of the hired company you can experience the ‘wow’ moments as your organization’s leaders learn the opportunities and risks that have been in your data but have gone unnoticed or acted upon.

At some point you must consider the skills of current resources and how much of an analytics bite your organization can chew as a core competency:

  • Are you capable now?
  • Do you need to move up the mountain of change in having an analytics culture more slowly?
  • Should you just rely on a partner?

Ideally your analytics effort needs to grow into more pervasive access and use by a data driven culture across the entire organization.  This may require training and a beginning reliance and insistence on asking, “But what does the data say?”  Analytics are critical to strategic, as well as tactical and operational, decisions.  Unless all of the organizational silos are involved, you are not optimizing your usage.

Are we able and willing to look at how we need to change our decision process?

How do we decide now? How will analytics change that?

Too often organizations make decisions by CEO fiat or at the other end of the scale by discussion in the executive leadership team on what people think/feel and going for consensus. Both approaches serve a need but not when it comes to making a data driven decision.  To truly leverage analytics the organization needs to become comfortable in challenging assumptions, debating alternatives but only if the challenge is supported by the data.  Context and experience are important in decision making but never overlooking or ignoring the data and what the analytics tell us to be fact.

Don’t forget the people. In a change as major as we have discussed here, key ‘users’ need to learn from leadership, communications and involvement what the benefit of an analytics journey will be.

Are we ready as an organization & culture to tackle this?

What will we need to do to change? How do we institutionalize analytics?

First you need a vision.  Senior leadership needs to paint the picture of the future that is foreseen and talk about it in ways that make people want to be part of that picture.  JFK in his speech:  “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  Clear, specific and visionary.

Next leadership needs to form a coalition of like-minded people and a few naysayers to sculpt a communications plan.

Key audiences need to be defined:

  • Who needs to make this happen,
  • Who needs to help them and who has to be cognizant?
  • What does each of those audiences know about this effort?
  • Are they probable proponents and is their sphere of influence in our organization large or small?
  • What do I need them to do?

Communications planning requires answering those questions and building a plan to define who owns each audience, how the audience will receive communications from whom, by what means and frequency and with what expectation of demonstrated action toward commitment.

First messages need to be about the vision and cover the frequently asked questions such as who is doing it, who’s on the team, what will they be doing, for how long, etc.? Later messages need to push accomplishments, the things the team has discovered and what is coming next.

Involvement is critical.

You cannot involve every member so you need to create opportunities for involvement.  Hold a kick-off, whether you are using a vendor partner or beginning an implementation.  Serve some donuts or snacks and invite everyone to attend both live or over the Web to hear the vision, the plan and the participants. As you move forward, have similar sessions to present the status and some of the early wins. Provide training to all early team members to improve their understanding of data and to push the cultural change in using analysis of data to be more successful.

In summary, analytics and their broad use across an organization requires some thought, some planning and some care in managing the process of change.  It’s not just about the data.  It’s about moving your people and your culture toward the embracing and use of the techniques, tools and processes.

Download Analytics-Driven Fundraising Today!


Gilman Sullivan has twenty five years of experience with improving organizational success through the application of change management techniques. His career includes the development and implementation of overall strategy, operations improvement, technology selection and implementations, all enabled by managing the process of organizational change.

A Navy veteran, he has conducted extensive transformations for non-profit clients, including faith-based, health care, higher education, cause and cure, and human service entities. His deep for-profit experience includes delivering support at the intersection of changes involving process, technology and people with high technology and consumer products companies, including: General Mills, Compaq, Lexmark, Anheuser-Busch, Philip Morris, Kodak, Fuji and Ben and Jerry’s among others.

Prior to joining Blackbaud, Gilman worked with a technology consulting firm delivering change management efforts tied to CRM, ERP, and operations software selection and implementation.  I volunteer at both the local Navy and Air Force bases, teaching discharging service people job interview skills.

Leave a Reply

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