Nonprofit Data: Making Sense of Reporting, BI & Analytics

Liz Murray

Director, Data Ecosystem Consulting

Liz works closely with clients to align their people, processes, and information systems to maximize fundraising and engagement activities.
June 26, 2024

Data intelligence tools—like reporting, business intelligence (BI), and analytics—empower nonprofits to make impactful, data-informed decisions. But how do you make the most of these powerful tools? Let’s dive in!

Reporting vs. BI vs. Analytics – What’s the Difference?

While people often use these terms interchangeably, they serve distinct purposes.


Reporting is any view of the current or past state that provides data.

Reports typically answer, “What happened?” For example, how much money have we raised this fiscal year? How does this compare to last year?

Business Intelligence (BI)

BI is a technology-driven process that analyzes all your data—from past sales figures to real-time social media trends—to provide actionable insights.

This comprehensive view, encompassing historical, current, internal, external, structured, and even social media data, empowers you to see what’s working and what’s not.

With BI, you can replicate successes and identify areas for improvement, maximizing your impact and achieving greater results.

The fundamental difference between reporting and BI is that while reporting will present you with data, BI gives you the ability to interact with that data.


Analytics incorporate real-time data and intelligence to provide a deeper understanding of trends and patterns. While BI can tell organizations what their current constituents are doing, analytics can tell them what their future constituents will do.

Imagine analytics as a statistical detective, uncovering the “whys” and “what ifs” behind the numbers. For example, organizations could use analytics to determine who might be a future major gift donor or who is at risk of lapsing.

The Power of Data Intelligence for Nonprofits

BI, reporting, and analytics work together to unlock the immense value within your data strategy. These tools allow nonprofits to: 

  • Enable staff to make decisions based on data to drive results.
  • Free up staff time by automating the labor-intensive data aggregation, cleansing, and formatting processes.
  • Distill large volumes of data from multiple sources into manageable insights.
  • Create visualizations to make sense of complex data, reveal patterns, and increase productivity.
  • Use past performance to gain insights to inform long-term strategies and forecasts.
  • Give staff a better understanding of constituent behavior, preferences, and needs to build deep, lasting relationships.
  • Identify growth and improvement opportunities to strengthen operations and the donor pipeline.

Ultimately, people require quality information to produce quality outcomes. Nonprofits need a clear view of the rearview mirror (understanding current performance) and a bright headlight on the road ahead (focusing on future growth). Quality information is the key to both.

Reporting & Analytics in Your Data Ecosystem

Here’s the secret to unlocking powerful data intelligence: a well-aligned data ecosystem. Each layer in your data ecosystem, from business processes to infrastructure, is interconnected. By optimizing these connections, you can get the insights you need to drive strategy and increase your impact. This might involve making adjustments across different parts of your ecosystem.

For example, you may need to implement a data warehouse to combine multiple data sources into a single location. You may need to research and implement a new reporting solution to supplement your CRM. Or maybe you need to build an integration between two enterprise solutions to fully leverage out-of-the-box reporting within a solution.

This may seem overwhelming, but the payoff in the clarity and value of your data is significant.

Not sure where to start?

Consider the following questions:


  • What information do people need to make effective decisions?
  • How is data produced and managed via business processes?
  • How do staff currently use data as part of their decision-making processes?


  • Is your data accurate, complete, and up to date?
  • Where does your data live?


  • How can out-of-the-box reporting tools within your enterprise solutions support your reporting goals? What are the gaps?
  • How are your enterprise solutions integrated?
  • Do you need to report across multiple data sources?

The answers to these questions will inform your needs and what you should tackle first. For instance, if your data isn’t being entered in your CRM consistently, you’ll likely need to start with process improvement. We must be mindful of the big picture as we design effective strategies to drive data-driven decision-making.

Free Guide—Best BI Tool for Nonprofits: Out-of-the-Box vs. Power BI vs. Tableau

With data constantly changing the game, clear reporting and insightful analysis are weapons in your nonprofit’s arsenal. But with so many data analytics tools available, choosing the right one can be daunting. Business Intelligence Engineer Kelly Cronin Krein created a guide to help you compare three popular options for nonprofits: out-of-the-box solutions, Microsoft Power BI, and Tableau.

This guide explores their strengths and weaknesses in key areas like cost, user requirements, customization, and usability, helping you pick the tool that best empowers your organization to turn data insights into real-world impact.


Download the Guide