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Data

Turning Raw Data Into Engaging Stories: Data Visualizations

By | Data, Nonprofit, Uncategorized | No Comments

Nonprofits often struggle to engage donors and constituents in their work. Often, their work, whether it is in the arts, human services, healthcare, humane societies, or education, remains hidden.

But the more work remains hidden from the public, the less interest and engagement a nonprofit will experience. Raw facts and figures aren’t interesting. People have trouble understanding and interpreting data. Although sites like Charity Navigator do a good job of providing basic metrics, they fail to put a face or a name to the work done by each nonprofit.

That’s where data visualization comes into play. The data your organization collects can be a powerful ally in your quest to reach more constituents, deliver programs and services, and engage donors.

What Is Data Visualization?

Data visualization uses information (data) and transforms it into charts, graphs, and other pictorial representations (visualization).

People tend to have a very hard time putting data into context. A list of years and the number of people who contract a disease vs. those who die from it lacks context. Change that list into a picture, and it’s easier to imagine that 1 out of every 5 people will die from cancer in a given year.

How Does Data Visualization Work?

Many organizations add business intelligence, or BI software, to their basic accounting systems to add data visualization capacities to their overall system. This helps them:

  1. Prepare better annual reports by including robust charts and graphs
  2. Engage the media in your work by sharing story-based graphics reporters can use
  3. Publish visualizations to their website and donor sites, adding information in a format easily understood by constituents
  4. Apply for grants with clearer and better information

A Tale of Tails: Data Visualization in Action

The Best Friends Society seeks to transform shelters into no-kill shelters, or shelters where animals are not humanely euthanized but kept at the shelter until adopted. The organization had collected data from 2015 on the state of animal adoptions nationwide but needed a way to publish it so that visitors to their site and people interested in their work could understand the urgent need to save more companion animals.

The organization responded to the challenge by investing in data analytics and business intelligence that transformed raw data into engaging, responsive graphics on their website. The resulting data visualizations may be seen on many pages on their site, for example, such as the interactive map of the United States that responds to changing demographics as the dataset is updated in the background.

According to Michael Kabella, interim CIO of Best Friends/Save Them All, in a streaming interview entitled Making Data Actionable: How Best Friends Animal Society Scaled Innovation on Behalf of 6M Furry Friends “ … the new dataset, being able to interact with it in new ways, allowed our mission, advancement, and programming teams, to really make informed, strategic, and tactical decisions that often, in the past, might have been driven by an intuition.”

He also relayed positive responses and benefits from sharing the new data visualizations with supporters and donors. “We also found out that our supporters and donors really responded positively to the visuals. It gave them an ability to identify with the information in a way that previously they hadn’t been able to with a spreadsheet of data. Because of that, we saw an impact on life saving and on donations.”

Cloud-based software is rapidly making robust nonprofit accounting software more affordable. It’s also easier to add on business intelligence and data visualization tools than ever before. Considering that nonprofits like Best Friends/Save Them All believe that adding this software made a big difference on saving the lives of companion animals, it may be worthwhile investigating it for your organization.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at (206) 605-3113 for more information.

Become a Data-Driven Organization

By | Data, Nonprofit | No Comments

Nonprofits today have more data at their fingertips than perhaps at any other time in history. But if this data remains hidden among reams of reports, it’s useless. Data that is difficult to read, interpret, or use offers no benefit to anyone.

You can change that by helping your nonprofit transition into a data-driven organization. True data-based decision making can be challenging to implement and may take years as you add more data-focused people to the staff, update technology, and provide training to everyone on how to use data (more on that later). But it is worth it in the long run.

Why Become a Data-Driven Organization?

Data-driven organizations can provide stakeholders with facts to substantiate their claims. They can offer donors, granting organizations, and others the proof through verifiable data of program efficacy and responsible stewardship of funds.

Perhaps more importantly, using data, these nonprofits can make better decisions on which programs to fund and where to put their efforts. Instead of guesswork, data driven organizations look at the facts to support their choices. They can better fulfill their mission when they see the facts that support their choices.

Steps to Becoming a Data-Driven Organization

As you shift your organization’s focus toward using data to make decisions, you may need to take several steps to help the transition.

  1. Provide staff with the tools they need.

Your current software may be unable to produce or analyze the data available. You may need to update or upgrade software. You may need to add business intelligence software, grant reporting software, and true fund accounting. A thorough assessment of the systems used to collect, support, and share data is necessary before choosing new software. But, in order to use data, staff must be able to collect it and access it easily, and that calls for the right software.

  1. Offer training and support.

Few people are trained in the use of data, and fewer still know how to analyze data. You may wish to find a consultant to work with your team to help them learn how to access, analyze, and report on data.

  1. Share data.

Another important step is to ensure all data from your organization can be shared easily and quickly. Silos may exist now that must be breached in order to ensure data is shared among all departments. A data-driven organization is no place for “data misers” who hoard their information. Make it an organization-wide expectation that data should be shared, within reason.

  1. Make data gathering a priority.

Ask key questions and add data gathering to all projects where it makes sense to do so. Ensure new initiatives get the green light only if there is enough data to support their launch. Make sure your teams know you expect efficacy data, retention data, and other key data to support projects and goals.

The Marriage of Data and Storytelling: A Match Made in Heaven

Data alone rarely sticks in people’s minds. Data, when combined with stories, does. Using storytelling techniques and having a hero, a villain, a wise guide, a quest, and other traditional story points, underscored with data to support the story, can make data come alive for your audience.

For example, a food bank may know that hunger affects 5% of their local community. What does 5% mean? What does it look like?

Telling a story about a hardworking single parent of four who is juggling two jobs to pay the rent and needs a weekly grocery supplement from the food bank makes that 5% statistic come alive. Now, it’s clear how donations to the food bank are used and who that 5% represents.

Ready for a Data-Driven Approach?

If you’re ready to focus more on data but you aren’t sure where to start, we can help. Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

The Data Analytics Chain: A Primer for Accounting Professionals

By | Accounting, Data | No Comments

Accounting professionals are used to working with data. After all, they work with numbers all the time. And aren’t numbers just a form of data?

Numbers are indeed a form of data, but there’s much more to data and analytics than working with standard reports. Data has come a long way from the manual data collection and use that some may remember from years ago. Now the question becomes which data to collect, rather than if it can be collected.

The Data Analytics Process

The data analytics process is a loosely connected series of steps that collects, prepares, organizes, reports, and offers for analysis important data from your company. This data may take many forms. It may include financial data, but it may also include warehouse reports, time to completion, and other quantifiable facts.

Sources of data today abound in the workplace. Many companies utilize enterprise resource planning, or ERP systems, which are finance and accounting systems that gather data from various points through a company.

The data analytics process takes into account every step of the process from finding to utilizing data.

  1. Data Collection

The first step, data collection, may already be taking place within your organization. As an accountant or financial professional, your input into data collection is invaluable. You can identify valuable data within the organization or among its suppliers and vendors that should be tracked.

Take time to work with your team to identify and list all potential sources of data that would be useful to your data analytics process. This activity should also include “dark data.” Dark data is data your business has access to but may not know how to extract it from its source. Sources include competitor websites, government and state websites and data reports, PDFs, and similar public documents. Web scraper or technology that can extract data from such sources can add to your repository of data.

  1. Data Preparation

Data preparation includes profiling, cleaning, and correcting the data before it is used. You’re probably familiar with profiling and cleaning data. It’s not unusual for accountants to work with data files in this manner. What is unusual is the size of the newer data files. They are often too large to work with manually and instead must rely on automated processes to identify data duplicates or discrepancies and clean the files.

  1. Build Information Models

The information model is critical for the analysis phase. The model provides the details of the data to be stored in the data warehouse. If the information model is incomplete or inaccurate, it can lead to significant challenges and mistakes later on during the analysis phase.

This is the time to build and review information models with your team. Go through what-if scenarios to ensure the information you’ve collected is enough to fulfill needed situation analysis. If not, return to earlier steps to define and collect the appropriate data.

  1. Analytics

In the analytics phase, insights are developed and shared with key stakeholders. Many companies find that business intelligence tools, aligned and integrated with enterprise resource planning systems, enable the analytic phase to be completed quickly and easily. Business intelligence software prepares visual representations of data that, depending on the type of report and the data fields chosen for the report, may be more easily understood than pure data alone. Bar graphs, pie charts, scatterplots, and similar diagrams are examples of business intelligence reports that transform data into more easily understandable graphics.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are many challenges and opportunities available in the data analytics process. Being aware of various challenges in each step of the analysis process can help you avoid or overcome them.

Data has always provided accountants with powerful information. Now, more than ever, with access to so many software tools to gather and utilize data, accountants can provide useful and valuable insights to benefit others.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

5 Tips to Squeeze More Life Out of Your Nonprofit Accounting Software

By | Accounting, Accounting Software, Data, Fiscal, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments

With more and more nonprofits embracing fund accounting as a strategy for growth, combined with the ever-changing reporting requirements from fund agencies, getting the most from your technology investment makes its way to the top of the priority list. Organizations need to be proactive when maximizing the returns on fund accounting investment.

Find out if you have you outgrown your accounting software by conducting a software review.

Start with a thorough review of your system’s processes. Next, conduct an in-depth analysis of the chart of accounts’ structure and financial statement formatting as they relate to supporting the organization’s reporting and tracking requirements. Finally, talk with your staff and key stakeholders  who use the system to find out what’s working, and what’s not.

The revelations may surprise you.The results of these three steps will create a roadmap to refresh your system.

Don’t have time for a thorough system review? There are some steps you can take right now to expedite your system and get more life out of it.

  1. Re-order chart of accounts. Remove unused segment values to make data entry and reporting more logical.
  2. Clean up and archive. Start with the Accounts Payable vendor and Accounts Receivable customer rosters, then tackle the register histories. This will speed up the system while reducing staff time sifting through obsolete information.
  3. Close, optimize, or delete old fiscal years. This will expedite report generation and system inquiries.
  4. Identify additional modules that can create efficiencies for staff. Contact your technology consultant to learn about modules that can be added to automate manual tasks like spreadsheet schedules, purchasing and reconciliations.
  5. Train & Re-Train. You can’t learn all there is to know during your initial software training session. Underutilized modules that your team revisits can streamline processes significantly.

Welter Consulting helps nonprofits get more out of their accounting software. We find the most affordable technology, the most powerful solution, and providing expert support. We are dedicated to assist you in achieving your mission by leveraging technology and superior reporting. If you’re needing technology help, we’d love to talk to you about your specific needs.  Contact us online or call 206-605-3113.