Endowment Dollars for Data: An Ad Hoc Reporting Case Study

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Click to learn more about author Mike Brody.

The vast majority of knowledge workers utilizing Business Intelligence via their hub SaaS application, regardless of vertical, will likely never build their own reports from scratch. According to Eckerson Group’s “A Reference Architecture for Self-Service Analytics” (2016), 90% of knowledge workers in an organization use BI casually with a majority 60% qualifying as “data consumers” who “simply want to consume dashboards and reports created for them.” They may run pre-existing reports or tinker with filter settings, but they will not be so bold as to start with a blank canvas and a question.

So, given these figures, why all the hype about ad hoc reporting? Why give organizations the ability to create their own reports from scratch if so few individuals will take advantage of the technology?

Marc Jorrens, Founder and Solutions Architect of Outbound Software, answered this question in an episode of Data Talks earlier this year. Outbound makes web solutions serving the attractions industry, and its earlier incarnations supplied users with static reports. “Customers would use those, but then they’d always want to tweak things,” he says. Before users have the power to make their own changes to existing reports, it fell to Outbound to field requests, build a new custom report, and add it to the static report library in an upcoming release. Once they transitioned to an ad hoc reporting solution, however, users could make any necessary report adjustments on the spot.

But ad hoc reporting did more than give customers additional leverage over existing reports: it also enabled them to author their own. With the introduction of ad hoc, Outbound quickly discovered that a number of customer reporting needs had been going unmet. Jorrens says he saw customers creating reports he and his team hadn’t realized they needed, reports like visitor flow-per-hour reports compounded with weather data, a valuable tool for predicting staffing needs. It only takes one report author to deliver those business insights to the organization at large.

At Converse College, an esteemed women’s college in Spartanburg, South Carolina, that author is the difference between an antiquated endowment program and one that will sustain the school’s scholarship program by appealing to modern philanthropists. According to Inside Philanthropy, endowment donors are becoming increasingly motivated by data on their gifts’ impact. Where in the past donors might have been satisfied to know that their contribution helped fund the organization as a whole, today’s philanthropists like to know specifics, such as which particular programs their dollars helped fund and what percentage of the costs they covered.

Converse Director of Advancement Services Lisa Marchi envisions an endowment reporting program that will give donors all this and more.

“We feel it’s important for endowment donors to know about the individual students their gifts are benefiting,” says Marchi. “What they’re majoring in, how they’re performing, what their future plans are, and so on. The gift of education transforms people’s lives, and we can use ad hoc reporting to tell that data story.”

The Advancement Services department at Converse uses DonorPerfect to track and manage all of the college’s incoming gifts, and it comes pre-stocked with reports. Those reports satisfy her team’s needs 80 percent of the time, and when they need something a bit more customized, they use the application’s Easy Reports tool. Neither option satisfies Marchi’s endowment reporting requirements, however, so she upgraded to a plan that includes their Smart Analytics feature, a full ad hoc reporting suite.

“Endowment and scholarship reporting require a multi-layered approach to merging donor information, scholarships/endowments descriptions, financials such as Corpus and balance as of end of fiscal year, and student recipients into one document,” explains Marchi. “This data, however, comes from multiple tables in the database. It was essential to look to the Smart Analytics feature with the upgrade service of DonorPerfect.”

If Marchi herself can generate the endowment reports her team needs to apprise current donors and entice new donors, her department, the college, its philanthropists, and the student body at large all stand to benefit. “The initial investment of time to learn the Smart Analytics will help us write custom, detailed reports to meet the long-term needs of the college.”

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