My colleague, Rick Johnston, wrote this great BI post for Acronym, the ASAE blog for the association community. His post, Do Associations Have Any Business Intelligence?, explores how business intelligence can help associations to become more accountable to their constituents. I couldn’t help sharing it here. For more from Rick, follow him on Twitter at @rjohnston.
At a technology trends discussion on Saturday, ASAE CIO Reggie Henry asked why associations are not doing more to use their data to make just-in-time business decisions. After all, there are plenty of business intelligence (BI) tools out there, and for-profit organizations use them all the time to stay ahead of their competition and ensure profits for their owners or shareholders.
We see very few associations leveraging BI tools to make sense of the valuable data many of them are collecting. Most associations collect lots of membership data, revenue data, subscriptions data, meeting attendance data, and much more. But who is asking "What do we need to know to measure our success and adjust our operational plans in time to make a difference this year?" In most cases, the answer is nobody. But why?
My answer to Reggie's question reflects on how nonprofits are different from corporations. I contend that it doesn't have to do with size, resources, or technical ability. It has more to do with accountability. Associations have boards who care about their cause, profession, or industry but have no personal financial stake in the outcomes. Everyone tries to be nice and it's just not that important to be better than good. The status quo will suffice.
Having over 25 years in association management and having served in several association boards, I can't remember a board meeting where someone asked the really tough questions around performance accountability. Oh, we look at financial and program reports and how we could have done better last year. We have lots of excuses (the economy, staff turnover, regulations, etc.) to explain away the high-level picture of prosperity, decline, or more often simply the status quo.
We need to dig deeper into the data mine to get real insight into the what and why questions beneath the surface of year-end reports. To think more like a business and closely analyze their operations and reap the intelligence that will help them measure real results and make quick decisions that will have a positive impact. For example, someone should be asking:
•Do our online promotions reach the right audiences and incent the behaviors (conference registration, advocacy actions, etc.) that we desire?
• Are membership renewal rates increasing or declining in one demographic more than another?
• What do our conference attendees value the most? What kinds of conversations are taking place?
I believe the data is often there but leaders in many associations avoid looking at it. By that I mean asking the questions that will allow them to really understand what is happening and why it happens in time to do something about it. Business intelligence tools need not be expensive to purchase or implement. The Texas Medical Association has been using relatively simple BI tools such as Excel to ask these questions for some time. I don't know where they are today, but I'll bet their constituents are better off for their having taken accountability seriously. Can you say the same?