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Power Up Your Organization's Data with Microsoft's Power BI

Create data visualizations and dashboards to gain insight and take informed action

Power Up Your Organization's Data with Microsoft's Power BI
Susan Hope Bard - December 15, 2016
How to gather data from different sources, prepare it, and show it in bar graphs, line charts, maps, and more.

Microsoft's Power BI is a free set of analytics tools that allows organizations to create compelling dashboards, gain 360-degree insight on organizational goals, organize dynamic reports, and make smarter, data-driven decisions. We use Power BI here at TechSoup to monitor things like website traffic, email activity, the product donation program, and webinar attendance.

So you may be wondering what exactly is data visualization? Simply put, data visualization takes numbers, or data, and turns them into a visual format that is far easier to understand than an Excel table or a database report. Data visualization enables organizations to create persuasive stories about their work that can influence donors, board members, and other decision makers.

Two Things You Need to Know Before You Get Started

There are a few terms you'll want to know to get started.

A connector is a data source. Connectors include programs such as Excel, Access, QuickBooks, and more. Power BI imports data from these connectors for users to create visualizations. Microsoft adds new connectors to Power BI by regularly. Do you have a data source that you want Microsoft to add to Power BI's list of connectors? Let them know at Power BI's UserVoice suggestion box.

When you create visualizations, you will consider which variables (data fields) to use, depending on what story you want your data to tell. For example, to show the success of a national fundraising campaign, you might want to use variables such as donation amounts, states, and city names.

Or perhaps you want to create a report that shows your organization's services over the past fiscal year. You could use variables such as times and dates, number of services delivered, types of services, and location.

The possibilities are endless. Power BI provides the flexibility to use different combinations of variables in a visualization and makes editing a breeze with drag-and-drop functionality.

So now let's take a quick look at the potential of Power BI for your organization.

Oh, the Things You Can Do!

In Power BI's dashboard, you create cards that display individual data visualizations. Power BI enables you to group the different visualizations in any order you wish. You can easily move one card from the top of the canvas, or page, to the bottom. Grouped on a canvas, these cards can illustrate a variety of stories using visualization types such as maps, bar graphs, line charts, pie charts, and more.

Watch as Jordan from Tech Impact shows you Power BI's dashboarding potential using a nonprofit's fundraising data.

Download video transcript

Preparing Data for Power BI

Before you create an amazing visualization, you will need to prepare your data. Just as you have to collect and prepare your ingredients before cooking, your organization's data should be prepared before you import it. Spending a few minutes reviewing your data will save you time later. Jordan gives you a few tips on preparing your data here.

Download video transcript

Here are the basic steps for data preparation.

  1. Select a data source, or connector (Excel, CSV, Salesforce, QuickBooks, and so on).
  2. Identify the specific files from that data source you want to use (for example, a tab from an Excel spreadsheet).
  3. Preview your data.
  4. Use the Power BI Query Editor to shape and refine your data.
  5. Import your data.
  6. Start creating visualizations.

Learn more about Microsoft's query editor here. If you want to practice before you start on your own data, you can download datasets from Pew Research Center and DonorsChoose.org.

Getting Started with a Simple Power BI Data Visualization

So now that you understand the basics of Power BI and how to prepare your data, let's take a look at creating a simple visualization using the same dataset Jordan showed us in the last video.

Watch the magic unfold as he navigates through creating one type of visualization, applies filters, and explains how organizations can use the visualization to gain insight and make better decisions.

Download video transcript

Power BI is a user-friendly tool, and much of the learning occurs in the doing. Like all tools, it has to be used regularly before you become familiar and skilled with its many features. Don't be afraid to try out different filters or visualization types. Be brave and try it all. You will learn more if you take some chances. Go forth and visualize!

How to Get Power BI

Power BI Desktop is available free for anyone!

Microsoft also offers many other donated and discounted cloud-based services to nonprofits, including Office 365, Azure, Dynamics 365, Enterprise Mobility, and more.

Learn More About Power BI

Here are some other resources to help you get started:

Image: Microsoft

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