Time Flies When You Have Better Data

In the three years that NBOA and NAIS have jointly collected financial operations data, outcomes for schools have only improved.

Mar 7, 2024  |  By Elizabeth Dabney, NBOA and Joy Bodycomb, NAIS

From the March-April 2024 Net Assets Magazine.

birds flying

Spring 2024 marks the third year of NBOA and NAIS’ DASL/BIIS financial operations data collection partnership, which we jointly announced in February 2021. Overall, the response we have received from school leaders has been positive, particularly regarding the time saved by entering data just once in DASL to power reporting in both DASL and BIIS. While that was one of the primary goals behind the collaboration, we’ve found more benefits over the years.

In our respective roles directing data collection efforts at NBOA and NAIS, we, Elizabeth Dabney and Joy Bodycomb, have been working closely to implement this critical data collection effort and meet the needs of the independent school community. In that collaborative spirit, we teamed up to reflect on our first three years of this beneficial partnership.

Our commitment to and enthusiasm for data serves as a strong foundation for our work together. We connect through a strong understanding of complex data collection systems and the processes they involve, a firm belief in the power of data to support academic and operational leaders at independent schools, and a passion for and commitment to collecting the most useful and reliable data for our schools, many of whom are both NBOA and NAIS members. Our strong connection is critical as we spend countless hours each data collection season on Zoom with each other. We don’t take for granted that we enjoy each other’s (virtual) company and can even make conversations about the wording of a data point fun!

We also acknowledge that we’re building on the long-standing, productive partnership between NAIS and NBOA, including conversations about sharing data collection efforts that began many years ago. NAIS already had partnerships with state, regional and other national associations to participate in DASL data collection, but the collaboration with NBOA and BIIS reached a new level. It required deep consideration of data points and an enhanced financial operations data scrubbing process, conducted by retired business officers.

Continuous Improvements

It’s no exaggeration to say that we take this responsibility very seriously, and we thoroughly work through every decision, both small and large, to manage financial operations data entry carefully. We’ve discussed everything from data point descriptions to the organization of data points to how much a data point should be indented. We frequently brainstorm features that would make DASL data entry easier and improvements to the overall data entry sequence and process. We analyze feedback from our members and use it to make incremental improvements to data collection each year.

Our strong relationship built over three plus years allows us to respectfully debate difficult decisions when, at times, the solution is not clear. We are continually balancing the need to keep historical data trends for ease of comparison and user consistency with the addition and retirement of data points to best meet the current data needs of our members. Because each of the thousands of schools we serve has its own priorities and goals, this balance can be challenging. A given group of school leaders is bound to be split on what data points they use and don’t. A handful of data points, such as net tuition revenue, are universally useful, but for others, it’s not so clearcut.

Deadline Debates

One of our hardest decisions each year is setting the deadline for financial operations data entry. The goal is to establish a timeline that allows as many schools as possible to participate while collecting the data in a timely manner so that the results are available when the information is most useful to schools.

This too requires a delicate balance. We know that some schools don’t receive their financial audits until well into the winter, sometimes as late as February, and other schools would love to use the cleaned dataset as early as December to begin planning for the next school year. Reconciling these competing schedules means that we cannot perfectly accommodate every school. We continue working to come up with the “right” solution annually to this conundrum. Thankfully, our solid working relationship enables us to approach these challenges productively.

Data Across Campus

It’s advantageous for both of our associations to see the other’s perspective so closely; we can better understand trends that are impacting our collective members. Joint data collection continually pushes us to make the dataset valuable for everyone — from the business officer to the head of school to the board of trustees and other school leaders. That can make it easier to make joint, data-informed decisions across school roles as well. Together we can better serve a broad audience and have a wider scope of understanding of the challenges faced by heads, board members and business officers and how data might help.

The collaboration makes each association and, most importantly, our schools stronger. It’s a big deal, and it’s just the beginning. 

After three years of collaboration, we each have a clearer perspective on how each association and our members use data. We better understand what each of our associations provides for our members and the independent school community in terms of benchmarking, research and analysis, and direct members to helpful resources offered by either of our associations.

The DASL/BIIS financial operations data collection is an example of what shared work across associations can look like without burdening member schools. The collaboration makes each association and, most importantly, our schools stronger. It’s a big deal, and it’s just the beginning. We see numerous opportunities for further collaboration in programs, research and analysis, and other areas. We hope our shared efforts support school leaders with data so they can focus on the business of running schools.


Elizabeth Dabney

Senior Director, Research and Data Analysis


Seattle, WA

As NBOA’s director, research and data analysis, Elizabeth Dabney leads the development, planning and management of industry research using data from the association’s Business Intelligence for Independent Schools (BIIS, pronounced “biz”) platform, in addition to other research activities as identified by the association’s strategic plan. Dabney’s research and analysis supports NBOA’s mission to inform NBOA members and other external stakeholders and encourage data-driven decision making throughout the independent school community. Dabney brings to NBOA more than 20 years of research experience. Previously, she was the director, research and policy analysis at the Data Quality Campaign, a nonprofit education policy and advocacy organization, and the nation’s leading voice on education data policy and use.

Full Bio »
Joy B

Joy Bodycomb

Joy Bodycomb is NAIS’s director, data quality and integration, DASL.


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