I encounter quite a bit of bashing of Crystal Reports within the advancement industry. The criticism seems to be growing of late as more people within the industry gain some level of awareness of competing reporting tools such as SSRS, Tableau, and Logi Analytics, to name a few. These are powerful tools, to be sure, and they may each offer some unique capabilities. But Crystal Reports is also extremely powerful if you are willing to invest the necessary time and effort into learning how to leverage its capabilities.
Which brings up an important point: All reporting tools require a significant degree of training and understanding. Let’s be blunt for a moment: Many of the reports we want or that management requires are highly complex, and they are reflective of highly complex fundraising operations and organizational structures. You can only go so far in terms of simplifying the process of generating the needed analytical reports. It will never be “easy button” level easy. So before we dismiss Crystal Reports as being “too complicated,” let’s step back for a moment and admit that this whole endeavor is highly complex! And no matter what tool you use to create reports, you have to have a solid understanding of the underlying data. Selecting the data you need to answer your reporting question is more than half the battle.
One of the great advantages of Crystal Reports is there is a high likelihood you already own it, either because it’s so ubiquitous in the industry or because it was bundled along with your fundraising database system. Tens of thousands of organizations using The Raiser’s Edge already have Crystal Reports, even if they’re not using it or are not using it extensively. And RE even has a built-in export format designed for Crystal Reports. When you combine that with a user-friendly query tool, the process of pulling the data and joining the tables you need for a report is made relatively easy. If you use a different CRM system, Crystal still makes it fairly easy to connect to the database to select datasets directly, or to use datasets in various formats.
It ultimately comes down to training. I’m not sure I have ever encountered an organization that has provided enough training for its employees. In all my years as a fundraiser I received exactly ZERO training to use my CRM and reporting tools. Like many of you out there I had to figure it out on my own. That’s great once you get there, since you’re quite likely to retain that hard-won knowledge, but it’s a terribly inefficient way to go.
Well-designed training can get users up and running and generating great Crystal Reports in a matter of days. Of all of the various training topics I deliver I enjoy teaching Crystal Reports the most – by far. It will sound like a cliché, but the most rewarding thing for a teacher is to watch the light bulbs go on for their students. When my students discover that they can understand Crystal Reports, the enthusiasm they exude is infectious. I hear exclamations like “I can’t wait to use this” or “I’m going to be able to do so many things with this!” all the time.
Brandon Ferris, Senior Director of Strategic Services and Fundraising Counsel