Total Lockdown or Complete Chaos? There is a Middle Ground!

Getting data out of any fundraising CRM system in various forms (reports, queries, mailing lists, exports, dashboards, etc.) is a universal challenge in the nonprofit sector, regardless of the CRM system used. Pulling data accurately requires deep and specialized knowledge of the tools, data, database structure, institutional business rules, and conventions of fundraising (particularly when dealing with giving data).

The common objection to enabling self-service ad-hoc reporting is that end users can’t be trusted to do it correctly – they don’t understand the business rules, they don’t have the time and patience to learn to use self-service tools correctly, etc. And there are potential negative business consequences  – mailings sent to the wrong people, misreported revenue numbers, user frustration, and, ultimately, loss of confidence in the data itself (often unfounded – usually it is the outputs, not the data, that are inaccurate).

But very few nonprofit organizations have the financial resources necessary to employ enough full-time data analysts/business intelligence specialists to meet the reporting and data output needs of their user populations. Usually it’s not even close. As a result, nonprofits have to have something of a self service-oriented model for getting data out of their systems. Either that or force users to endure long wait times for every mailing list and query they need to do their jobs. The latter option  – locking down access to ad-hoc reporting tools – is fairly common, especially in the early period after going live with a new fundraising CRM system.

Even in larger, more robust nonprofit business intelligence environments, some end user data output needs cannot be anticipated in advance – that is to say, there will always be a significant number of ad-hoc (or semi-ad-hoc) data requests that can’t be fulfilled with the simple push of a button. A certain amount of end-user input – that is, self-service –  will always be necessary. The challenge, then, becomes how to enable end users to get the information they need in a timely manner, using a combination of:

  1. Fully pre-built options.
  2. Formal requests to be fulfilled by specialists (a topic which deserves its own discussion), and,
  3. Carefully designed self-service options that allow end users – who are not data experts and who have things other than pulling data to think about – to pull and output data quickly, easily, and with confidence, along with the training necessary for them to pull data confidently and correctly.

The BBCRM Data Output Options paper focuses on #3 – in particular, how to take advantage of the considerable range of output options offered by Blackbaud CRM (BBCRM hereafter) to meet the information output needs of end users without requiring them to become BI specialists. BBCRM offers a robust toolset, and when applied strategically, these tools can help users get the information they need with more confidence and less frustration.

Zuri Group can help. Contact us for more information.

Brandon Ferris, Senior Director


In Defense of Crystal Reports

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 uCrystal_Screenshotp 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
Zuri Group