Buttering corn proves a challenge. Propriety doesn’t help. My brother favored a knife, multiple pats, patience. Repeated painting. My mother sacrificed bread. Anointing a slice with an abundance of sweet-cream butter, wrapping the bread around the corn, she gently turned the ear. In the summers of the deep south, butter is kept too cold to spread. I refused to work the knife or bother with bread. I grabbed the stick of butter in one hand, held my corn in the other, spun and smeared.
It never occured to me I would offend my mother or her garden club friends. My brother’s disapproving laugh surprised. Honestly, the butter was too cold for anything else. Besides, the indentations on the stick of Land-o-Lakes were barely visible when I was done. I assumed whatever tresspasses my fingerprints made would be forgiven by my efficiency, my innovation. There was no better option. I grabbed the butter.
Three years and two months ago – 79 sprints ago – I wrote a post about Microsoft’s Power BI and Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge NXT data. I was convinced the ease of use of Power BI and its agnostic view of data sources would, when combined with Blackbaud’s well-structured data, usher in an era of data visualization that would change reporting as we know it. I worked on a few mockups – based mainly on Prospect Management – showcased them, and even gave them away for free. Then, the next week, Blackbaud released its built-in Analytics and I was blown away. I updated my post, writing at the time (November 2015):
Just saw the Analytics presentation for RE NXT that was presented at this year’s  BBCON – wow! If you’ve been holding off on moving to NXT, the Analytics alone should be all the reason you need. I’ll still post more here about Power BI, but NXT’s analytics are clearly the way to go.
So, I went quiet. I thought it merely a matter of months before all the features that drew me to Power BI would make their way into all analytics solutions, including Blackbaud’s – easy mapping (even with non-geocoded data), useful mobile options, custom calculations, embedding visualizations anywhere on the web, overlaying with census data, and more.
Actually, the opposite happened. Microsoft and the Power BI team have raced ahead with an incredible amount of features – so many it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping up.
Blackbaud also added features to its analytics – free visualizations using standard insights to let users build their own modern reports, and paid, advanced custom insights that – for another $2,400 a year – let you configure your own data points based on a pool of pre-selected fields. Indeed, these are very nice knives and excellent slices of bread. Problem is, there’s a free and, in my opinion, better reporting solution available with Power BI that now takes only minimum effort (thanks to Grant Quick’s custom connector and the ability to share Power BI Templates) to enable.
The openness of Blackbaud’s SKY API combined with Microsoft’s increased power for custom data connectors combine to make my three-year-old predictions of modern reporting and data visualizations a reality.
This is the first in an updated series of posts (at least one a month for 2019) about Power BI and Blackbaud data. There will be more details to come, but for those who don’t want to wait, do these three things this week:
2. Build a custom connector (free) to your Raiser’s Edge NXT data based on Grant Quick’s connector on GitHub following his directions here: https://github.com/GrantQuick/BlackbaudSkyApi
3. Download this (free) Power BI Template file (.PBIT) and watch as your Received Revenue data is automatically* connected, modeled, and visualized ⬇︎ (*requires you have the custom connector configured from step 2 first).
Embedded version of template on this page:
To be clear, this is early days. The custom connector and PBIT template file are free. Caveat emptor, check with your lawyers, your data protection officer, perform your due diligence. The PBIT template is definitely still in BETA but should work with your received revenue. If nothing else, the PBIT file will be a great resource for learning how to build data models with your new custom connection to Blackbaud’s SKY API. You can step back through each part of the model when you edit the queries.
The data model (models) will get better. There are more posts, step-by-step screencasts and instructions coming. Of course if you want immediate help implementing a paid Power BI solution, just say the word. But that is not the point. This is your data. You should be able to visualize it the way you want at little to no cost. Whatever else Power BI might be, it’s the best tool for visual data storytelling. So, start. Start telling your organization’s story with data.
Go ahead. Grab the butter.