4 Steps for Approaching Data Integration Successfully – Part 4: Technology and Software Considerations for Your Nonprofit

Mar 30, 2021

The concept of ‘best-of-breed’ technology is newer to the nonprofit sector than it is to the commercial sector, and later-adopters have the benefit of letting the earlier-adopters work out the kinks before investing.  But best-of-breed is here to stay, and is generally beneficial in the long-run both for the organization and for their donors and other supporters.

What is best-of-breed technology?

Best-of-breed technology means that a nonprofit will select the best system to perform a specific function, and it will perform that function better than an integrated system will.  This has generally been proven out in the nonprofit fundraising sector in particular, inasmuch as organizations enjoy the functionality of back-office CRM systems such as Raiser’s Edge NXT or Salesforce NPSP, and then choose best-of-breed satellite applications for fundamental functions such as online donations, event management, email marketing, personal fundraising, volunteer management, ticketing, and the like.  Those satellite systems do their own thing very effectively and the main CRM database continues to serve as the ‘system of record’.  All you need to do is make sure that you get all of the data from the ancillary systems into the main one.

And there’s the rub.  These systems, great as they are, were not designed or built to exchange data back and forth as a top priority.  It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the reality of using a variety of applications for a variety of purposes.

But it’s not at all insurmountable, and for two reasons.

  • While data exchange may not have been a top priority, most application designers realize that data need to be moved in and out. There are typically standard import and export functions that will generate data (even if it needs to be reformatted or otherwise cleaned up) and many applications come with application programming interfaces (also known as APIs) which allow software developers ‘back-end’ access to data more effectively than end-users using ‘front-end’ utilities.
  • There are companies like Omatic that specialize in data integration and that understand the overriding issues and the nuances of exchanging and translating data between systems so that data quality remains flawless and data integrity is beyond reproach.

The Goal of Integration Technology:  Current, Clean, and Complete Data

The goal of integration technology is not simply to move data back and forth.  If the outcomes of your integration processes are systems with stale information, incomplete records, and dirty data riddled with duplicates, then the integration will have done more harm than good.

Omatic’s integration philosophy is based on three key and equally important dimensions:  Currency, Cleanliness, and Completeness.

  • Current data are fresh data – meaning that as soon as information is updated in one system – whether a satellite system or the main CRM – it gets updated in the other(s). Current data also support more timely actionability – more expedient donor acknowledgments or the right newsletter emailed when someone adds to or changes their preferences.
  • Clean data allow for a better constituent experience but also have financial implications. No donor or other supporter wants to see their name or address misspelled or mis-cased (even if the error is their own from when completing a form), but something as simple as one incorrect letter in an email address means that your supporter won’t be hearing from you at all.  And then there’s the issue of duplicates.  In addition to the embarrassment of sending duplicate communications, there is additional hard cost to duplicates, not to mention the donors who stop giving if their donor experience is eroded to the point of no return.
  • Complete data means that there are no gaps in the main CRM database due to information siloed in other systems. End users need a comprehensive view of their donors and supporters – individually or in groups – so that they can interact with them most effectively.  If certain data remain in siloes, your team could encounter blind spots – think about contacting a lapsed donor but not knowing that she recently registered for an event or completed an important volunteer activity.

The goal of integration technology should be for your integrated data to be reliably current, clean, and complete, so that users trust it and so that supporter engagement and involvement is maximized.

Get Yourself the Best-of-Breed Integration Software

It should come as no surprise that the final step to approaching data integration successfully is to obtain the best integration technology software for your nonprofit.  For most organizations, especially for those that have a main CRM database coupled with at least one ancillary system that collects data, and/or that receives a lot of data from external sources (eg, spreadsheets), this means more than just import tools.

It means integration software that can address key functionality needed by nonprofits that have to manage a lot of data:

  • Sophisticated record matching so that duplicates are prevented and only truly new records are added
  • Algorithms that properly case and properly spell data that may have been improperly entered
  • Proper data translations and transformations to ensure your data standards are maintained
  • Automated API-based Connectors to prevent the need for downloading and uploading
  • Bidirectional functionality to ensure that current/clean/complete goes both ways
  • No need for customization
  • Customer support available on-demand

Long Term Implications of Data Integration Technology

Most nonprofit database managers and end-users who investigate data integration technology – or who look to replace older integration tools – focus on the tactical:  effort saved, hours saved, eliminating errors that come alongside manual processes, and quality of work-life for data-entry and other data management team members.  And, probably refocusing that saved time and effort on other must-do activities that have been put perennially on hold.

But, as good as all that is, the long-term implications of data integration technology are strategic.  Think of the following, which are just some of the examples:

  • Getting acknowledgments to donors faster is more effective stewardship
  • Getting gifts and other data updated in the CRM more expediently allows for segmentation for the next appeal to be more effective, as well as completed more quickly
  • Eliminating database duplicates both reduces database bloat and reduces money wasted on duplicate solicitations – not to mention saving the embarrassment of sending duplicate messages to donors and prospects
  • All of this will support sustained constituent engagement, improved donor retention, improved conversion of prospects to donors, increased average gift size – all of which leads to more funding for your mission.

That last part is the key.  The long-term impact of solid data integration is more funding for your mission – that’s what it all boils down to.

For almost 20 years, we’ve been helping nonprofit organizations integrate data among their disparate systems.  But the ultimate goal has always – really – been helping nonprofits to better accomplish their mission.

Stu Manewith, CFRE
Stu Manewith, CFRE joined Omatic Software six years ago and serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy. In that role, he is Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert and is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the areas of data health and integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud, working with Raiser’s Edge, Financial Edge, and Blackbaud CRM client organizations as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager. Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE credential in 1999.