Interview with a CRM Expert: Your Top 3 BI Questions- Answered! | npENGAGE

Interview with a CRM Expert: Business Intelligence

By on May 14, 2013


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. The CRM Expert Series will cover a range of white hot CRM topics, best practices and tips that help you with your CRM strategy across the board.

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. And, as a side note, Jay also frequently blogs about topics such as software product development, entrepreneurship, books, and the wonders of the digital age.

Tiffany: Jay, thanks for joining us in the CRM Expert Series and helping to kick it off with a BANG! 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 certainly is an intriguing concept: using BI to help predict things that may happen. Let’s dig in a little more with another common question we get… tell us more about how BI can be used. What are the examples? How have you seen it used today to assist organizations with better decision making?

Jay: Organizations can use existing data to uncover additional value, although it usually takes some dedicated staff to identify and act on these insights. Unfortunately, these activities often fall behind other priorities within the organization. Therefore, many organizations choose to stick to traditional segmentation methods like RFM (recency, frequency, monetary), which are widely accepted and easily explained.

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. Eleven times! 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 (To learn more about this topic, check out Your Donors Love You! Are You Listening to Them? on npEngage).

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? How can they read more about it?

Jay: First of all, BI is for everyone. Any organization can become data driven in this way 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. Efforts to find the hidden value in your data will always benefit from increased consistency, cleanliness and completeness of the donor file.

Next, use the scientific method to test new ways of segmenting your data. Use the traditional RFM (Recency, Frequency, Monetary) segments with a new variable mixed in. A few examples might include adding recent volunteers, event attendees or newsletter subscribers to your segmentation criteria.

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.

Tiffany: Thank you Jay for joining us today! For all of you out there, please leave questions or comments for Jay or Tiffany in the comments below. We would love to hear from you and your thoughts and ideas about Business Intelligence, as well as ideas and requests for topics for the CRM Expert Series.

Signing off for the CRM Expert Series for now… until next time!


As the Director of Vertical Marketing and Strategy for Blackbaud’s Higher Education Solutions group, Tiffany is accountable for leading the strategic management and execution of the team’s go-to-market strategy across the entire higher education landscape in North America. Key areas of responsibility include the strategic planning, commercialization and go-to-market execution of launching solutions and services to meet the ever-changing needs of Higher Education institutions. Additionally, Tiffany leads the team that evaluates and introduces new solutions to the market to affect the entire income stream on campus through partnership and acquisition- one recent example is the acquisition of AcademicWorks scholarship and award management solution into the Blackbaud portfolio in April 2017.

Tiffany maintains a strong commitment to nonprofit leadership and has served on a number of nonprofit boards and steering committees supporting her alma mater, mentorship programs for women beginning careers in Marketing and Technology as well as organizations combatting the many issues that arise with hunger and homelessness in our community. Tiffany currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Lowcountry Food Bank.

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