Doing Business Analysis In a Non-Profit: Cathy Warren, ACBA

Today we meet Cathy Warren. Cathy was a Systems Analyst 20 years ago and is currently a Program Director at a non-profit, and has applied her business analyst skills in this role. Cathy joined The Business Analyst Blueprint® in 2017, and then came back to earn her Applied Certification in Business Analysis™ (ACBA) in 2021.

Tune in to discover how Cathy:

  • Got back into doing business analysis by modeling an event management process for her non-profit.
  • Fell back in love with everything business analysis while being part of The Business Analyst Blueprint®.
  • Leveraged the downtime of COVID to start exploring vendors and system integrations to consolidate data from multiple different systems.
  • Gained a broader perspective of business analysis work through the BA Essentials Master Class.
  • Increased her visibility on LinkedIn after adding her ACBA certification to her profile.


Laura Brandenburg: Hello and welcome. I’m Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap. I’m here today with Cathy Warren, who’s from the Detroit, Michigan area. She’s one of our most recent ACBA recipients, and a program director at a non-profit, and used The Business Analyst Blueprint® to really solidify a lot of her experience. Welcome, Cathy. So glad to have you here.

Cathy Warren: Well, thank you, Laura. I appreciate being invited to join in on this conversation.

Laura Brandenburg: If you could just start us out, tell us a bit about where you were in your career when you started The Business Analyst Blueprint®, which I know is quite a few years ago now, right?

Cathy Warren: Yes. I did mine back in 2017.

Laura Brandenburg: Oh, you were one of the very first.

Cathy Warren: Not the first, but close. Well, in 2016, this is a quick background, I was wanting to kind of update my skills and try to get back into a business analyst position. I had been working with this non-profit, which I love. We do organ donation awareness, so it’s near and dear to my heart. I’ll always volunteer with it. But I was just getting an inkling for wanting to get back into business analysis. I had done that work right out of college for my first 10 years. We were systems analysts way back then in the day. I wanted to see if I still enjoyed it, liked it, and could do the work.

When I saw your The Business Analyst Blueprint® workshop advertised, it really enticed me. You have an interesting way of enticing people who are on the fence with prices that are discounted, so you can’t say no. That pushed me over the edge. It was the added incentive I needed on top of my interest.

I took The Blueprint in 2017 and fell back in love with process modeling, data modeling, all of that work that I had done before. My focus, in my time, was more strictly in the requirements definition phase. I had never been on the beginning side with goals and objectives and scope, and I hadn’t been on the inside with testing. I’d always been in the middle, very waterfall approaches. Yours was my first jump back in the pool and absolutely loved it.

I continued doing some further education on top of that. When I saw your master class again being offered just last year, last fall, with the added incentive of getting the ACBA, I’m like, okay, it’s just meant to be. It was the right time of day to see the email, to make it click, and let’s just go for it.

Everything has kind of worked in a great line of progression if you will with my 18 years working with this nonprofit, we are very small so you wear multiple hats. We are very, I wouldn’t say completely paper and pencil, but maybe a notch or two above. It’s not completely automated and everything is not in software and fun, great little packages on your laptop. It’s a very manual process.

But in doing the work, especially with The Blueprint, one of the things that you emphasized was that if you were not currently in a business analyst position doing that work, take the work that you currently do and model it. That’s what I did and it was a great exercise because not only was I able to document what I do for future generations, if you will in the nonprofit, it really just helped me hone my skills. It was a perfect way to take what you currently do and put it into a BA vernacular, if you will.

Laura Brandenburg: And I know that 2017 was quite a long time ago, but do you remember the process that you documented?

Cathy Warren: I believe the one I did for process modeling was actually the process you have to do to get a liquor license for an event. We have to fundraise and you fundraise better when you have a little liquid refreshment on your side.

I modeled that process and that process is, again, manual and automated. It was a great way to kind of intersect all that you had taught in The Blueprint and it really made me think about what I do. It’s so easy when you think about a process, you don’t think about all the steps until you really start going through it one at a time. It was an excellent exercise for myself in my nonprofit world as well as to kind of learn how to ride the bike again.

Laura Brandenburg: That’s such a perfect example. We get questions all the time of like it’s business analysis. Is it relevant in a nonprofit? And it’s like it’s a business process. It should almost be like an organizational process. It’s just a step-by-step of how work flows in an organization. And so it definitely applies.

Do you, especially being in that environment where a lot of things work automated, how did you find…do you remember what your use case was or your data modeling? How did you apply those specific skill areas?

Cathy Warren: What I did in those areas, and again, that was interesting. When I jumped to the data model, I kind of did it in two different approaches. One; to kind of mimic the information I needed for the liquor license processing, but two; just to kind of see if I could do it.

I looked at our membership. We don’t have a donor management system. It’s all in Excel and file folders of notes. You meet people at different events. Kind of doing a data model on all the information that we needed to collect for our members, which leads to our sponsors, which leads to our volunteers, which leads to events that we sponsor, it really helped me kind of get a bigger understanding, a better handle on all the data that we do maintain. Now, what we’re doing, we are finally at a stage where we’re starting to look at more of a true donor management system.

Now that I know what our needs are, I can look at these packages that are being offered to us by other organizations like Kindful and One Cause and such like that, that help the nonprofit world, now I’ve really helped define my requirements. It’s really been beneficial. It really has.

Laura Brandenburg: That’s amazing that you’re applying that work so far into the future. That’s pretty cool.

Cathy Warren: It’s been helpful.

Laura Brandenburg: For those of you who are considering The Business Analyst Blueprint®  today, today it’s a four-module program where you’d go through business process use cases and wireframes, data modeling, and then the BA Essentials Master Class.

For people like Cathy who were with us in the very early days, the fourth requirement wasn’t part of the old Blueprint, so you were part of a special program that we did to do the BA Essentials Master Class, which was more recent.

Tell us a little bit about what you chose for that project and kind of what has materialized between where you were and where you are now.

Cathy Warren: When I took the master class back last fall, I finished with that in January, I focused on, and I’ll be honest, you had to hone down my scope. I wanted to do the world because it was just right there. I wanted to do everything from event management, sponsorship management, membership management, and everything. And you were like, “No, Cathy, just take one piece.” That was very wise. I focused on our members.

I did kind of the process that we go through with verifying our members, if you will, looking at the benefits that we offer our members, because those are the things, obviously, that we’d want to track. Our members have events. We sponsor their events. They sponsor our events. One of the things we offer to our members is just publicizing what they’re doing. Knowing their events and what they’re doing is very important to us.

For the master class, I focused on the member management portion of it which, again, was extremely timely to update that as our discussions continued with some donor management systems, if you will.

Laura Brandenburg: Right. So you started tackling the project of moving members into more of a donor management system?

Cathy Warren: Yes.

Laura Brandenburg: What has come of that so far?

Cathy Warren: Well, I think we have talked with several vendors about their product. Our situation, obviously, part of an effect of COVID, is we have been basically shut down on our budgets since last March. We are very fundraising oriented. If we don’t make money, there is no money to do anything with. We don’t get any federal funding or anything like that. We have to go find our money or have great events that people want to come and support.

We got, kind of, put on hold and turned our focus into just helping to publicize what our members were doing. Rather than oriented towards ourselves, we went oriented towards our members and did stuff on social media to keep safe.

Because of that, we took advantage of that time to talk to several vendors about their software packages and what they offer for member management, donor management, those kinds of lives. We were looking at it trying to condense all the different stove-type packages that we do have.

In the nonprofit world, we use, and you use this too, we use Constant Contact for emails. You have a set of emails in Constant Contact. We use Form Stack for doing event ticket ordering and such. Again, you have contact information.

We got very tired of having things in all these different systems, so we started looking at the vendors for what either integration they had with the current ones we had, or what they could replace so that we could reduce our budget. That’s kind of how we spent the last year. We are still on hold. Our events won’t take place until October now, so we’re still kind of in a bit of a holding pattern, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Laura Brandenburg: It’s allowed you to do some real due diligence on tools which may be…

Cathy Warren: Yes.

Laura Brandenburg: I can imagine if you’re wearing multiple hats, finding the time to do the business analysis can be a challenge.

Cathy Warren: Yes. You don’t have time to sit there and talk to vendors about what theirs does vs. what their neighbors’ does. It’s been helpful. It’s been very helpful.

Laura Brandenburg: One of the other things…you and I had talked a bit earlier and you had talked about how you shared your ACBA, now that you are officially ACBA certified, you finished the first three classes a while back and then this past year you finished the BA Essentials Master Class. What are some of the results that you’ve seen from that, specifically?

Cathy Warren: Well, for me, personally, the master class really gave me a wonderful view from Point A to Point Z, if you will, start to finish of a full project. Because, again, my focus in my previous life, if you will, had been kind of in the middle and I really hadn’t had a lot of exposure from a BA perspective on the front end or the back end of a project. So, having your course, that master class, really just extended The Blueprint so that you really kind of know the path that you need to go on. Going through those individual modules, the light bulb was just going off. “This makes so much sense. Wish I knew that then.”

Because of that, and I did get it out, I was very proud to have received that. It was great working with you and I got to work with Dr. Michael Brown, with reviewing my materials. I know him from a local IIBA® Southeast Michigan chapter. He was very kind to me.

Laura Brandenburg: Michael White, right?

Cathy Warren: Oh, I’m sorry. Michael White.

Laura Brandenburg: I remember seeing you two get matched up and I was like, “Oh, that’s so interesting.” Those are done a bit randomly, like on the back end, but it was kind of cool. It was like I think they know each other.

Cathy Warren: No. Dr. White was excellent. Met him in person a couple of times before COVID. So, when I knew he was working with you, I kind of pulled his ear one time and I said, “You wouldn’t happen to be looking at my stuff, would you?” So, no, Dr. White was amazing. He was wonderful to work with. He’s a great guy to know and, wow, what a resource as well. LinkedIn and everywhere he is.

I am involved and active in the IIBA® Southeast Michigan Chapter. What I found interesting is I’m getting lots of queries going, “What is this ACBA and how do I get it?” “How does it equate?” There’s a lot of interest and a lot of intrigue. I’m really looking forward to seeing the ACBA kind of take off and just continue its upward progression. A lot of people are very interested in it.

You kind of get a little bit overwhelmed with all the academic-ese in the BABOK® Guide (A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge®). While it’s good and we need it, it’s another step to put that practical application in. Because then it shows that not only do you understand what’s in the BABOK® Guide, you can use it and do it.

I applaud you for taking the effort to put forward the ACBA. I know that had to be a long-time project that, hopefully, you like seeing where it’s progressing.

Laura Brandenburg: Yes, thank you for that. It has been. It’s been one of those things on my mind for a while that part of it is seeing the amount of effort that people put into the program and realizing that this is not a typical business analyst training course where you kind of go through the material and maybe take a little quiz at the end. There’s an intensive process that you go through.

Really, it’s about recognizing the achievement that you have made in your career to make that investment, to do the application, and to have it reviewed and ensure it meets industry standards. It just felt like we needed to be recognizing that in a more formal way. That’s how the ACBA came to be.

Cathy Warren: I have noticed on LinkedIn, which is where I focus now, prior to getting the ACBA, I was just another person out on LinkedIn, but after putting the ACBA out there and doing posts on it, I’ve got it in my featured section so that people can see it and get more information out about it, more people are looking at me. I know it’s going to help me take that next step to getting a BA job. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

Laura Brandenburg: I want to just reflect to you that everything you shared that you’ve been doing at least the last year, we haven’t gone through everything, you are doing business analysis. You might not have the title, but you are doing a lot of business analysis. Looking at vendors, evaluating vendors and system integrations, that’s not junior-level BA work. That’s true BA work.

Cathy Warren: Again, the thing that I really like is that you just get the full picture. That’s what I’ve always enjoyed about the courses that you do, whether they’re the half-hour little quick courses you do or the full up courses, the material that you put out that’s free and available for everybody on career progression has really just kind of kept me looking at the end of the tunnel. I appreciate all that you do to help us.

Laura Brandenburg: Thank you. Any last tips for someone in a nonprofit space thinking about doing a BA role or kind of wearing multiple hats and wanting to get more into business analysis? What could they do to follow along in the path that you’ve taken for yourself?

Cathy Warren: Absolutely. I know for myself, because I had the background in doing this kind of work, my interest was there and just kind of re-honing it. So, if people have stepped away for a while, I had the pleasure of being able to be a mom at home with my two boys when they were little for six years without an official job, if you will.

Coming back in and just going through this material has really just helped upgrade my skills, update my skills, and has shown me that the work that you do, you just have to know how to document it and make it visual. Everything is so visual now with all the data analytics and everything. My mind has always worked that way, that’s why I’ve always like process modeling and data modeling because if I read it textually, it just goes in one ear and out the other. But if you see it visually, then it hones in.

If you’ve got the interest, my advice is go for it. Take the course. You offer so many, “Here, take a look at it if you’re trying to decide,” kind of courses which gave me, I believe, I started with one of those. Take a look. If you’re interested, this is what we’re doing. That was enough to interest me to kind of step through the gate and go ahead and try it.

If there’s an interest, I say go for it. You’ll figure out, because you guys and all your instructors, really do focus on the fact that you don’t have to be in a BA position, but just look at what you’re doing in your life. Whether you’re doing household management, nonprofit management, business management, QA, there have been so many people that I’ve met through your workshops with all different facets and they all have this interest in seeing the visual, meet the textual, in helping to define a process better so it makes sense for the end users. It’s been a fun path. Hope I continue down this path.

Laura Brandenburg: Yes. It’s been so awesome to speak with you today, Cathy. Thank you for sharing your journey and your advice. We celebrate your achievements and your successes here. I’m really excited to see you continue to apply these skills. Come back to that career that I can tell that you have a big passion for.

Cathy Warren: Thank you again. I appreciate all that you do and you definitely have a follower in me for life. I won’t stop the follow.

Laura Brandenburg: Awesome. Thank you, thank you.

About The Business Analyst Blueprint®

When you join The Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program, you’ll learn all 12 of the industry-standard techniques and the business analysis process framework to build your confidence in the best practices of business analysis.

You’ll create validated work samples and be a credentialed business analyst as a recipient of the Applied Certification in Business Analysis™ (ACBA).

>> Click here for more information about The Business Analyst Blueprint® <<

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