5 Must-Ask Questions to Prepare for External Data Integration with The Raiser’s Edge
Data, data, data, we’ve all got it! Sometimes it’s all in one place, but most of the time it’s all over the place. No matter how hard you try to keep all of your data within The Raiser’s Edge®, chances are you’ve got information about your constituents living outside of it too. These other data sources probably range from Excel spreadsheets containing RSVPs from your latest event, to a completely separate database for your online fundraising efforts, or to data within your volunteer management system. The fact is without data integration tools it becomes a colossal headache to ensure that your Raiser’s Edge (RE) records give you a complete picture of a donor’s interaction with your organization.
So, are you ready to integrate data from external sources with RE? If so, there are five must-ask questions that you should use to prepare for the data integration.
1) How, when, and why should a nonprofit integrate data?
The why is pretty straightforward. If you want a complete picture of the relationship a donor or prospect has with your organization, you need data integration. The when and how are more subjective and will vary from organization to organization. For smaller organizations that have a few spreadsheets of event data living outside of RE, data integration may simply mean manually entering that data into RE after the event. For larger organizations that have data in an online fundraising database, and/or a volunteer management system, and/or a direct mail database, and on and on… you’re looking at more of a complete data integration process where the data from those external systems feeds into The Raiser’s Edge on a regular basis. You may even be looking for something bi-directional where updates to your Raiser’s Edge database are pushed out to the other databases to ensure updated, accurate data across the board.
2) What’s your primary database?
Whenever you’re looking to integrate data from multiple sources it’s important to determine which will be considered the primary source of data for your organization. Therefore, if the development team starts the year off running reports from RE, we don’t want to switch mid-year and start running those same types of reports from Luminate, as an example. If that happens we’ll end up trying to compare apples to oranges. In some instances, it may make sense to have more than one database of record. For example, many educational organizations will use their student information system as the database of record for the registrar’s office, but they will use their donor management system as the database of record for the fundraising and alumni services offices. If the organization as a whole needs to have multiple databases of record, at a minimum, you’ll need to determine the database of record for specific record types or data types.
3) How are we going to link these two systems together?
Depending on how much data you have living in multiple databases, you may decide to integrate your data in an automated fashion via ImportOmatic, Raiser’s Edge Import, or using another connector between two systems. In these instances, it is crucial to create some sort of unique link between a record in one system and the same record in another system. There are several ways to do this, but most of them involve tracking the unique ID assigned by one system (i.e. Luminate ID) somewhere on the constituent’s record in the other systems (i.e. as an Alias or Attribute in the Raiser’s Edge). The specific method you use to link the two systems truly depends on your data integration project.
4) Do you need to set policies around record ownership?
If you are an organization with many different departments that is accessing data about your constituents in many different locations, you may have more than one database of record. If so, it helps to get ahead of any record “ownership” issues. If the events team reaches out to a donor, then we don’t want the annual giving team reaching out to them at the same time. In larger organizations it’s important to establish guidelines around record ownership and communication to ensure we’re not sending our constituent mixed messages or even worse, overwhelming them with duplicate communication.
5) Who has the better data?
If you’re importing data from one data source to another, it’s important to know which database has more accurate or up-to-date data. You don’t want to overwrite good data that you have worked hard to keep clean and accurate in Raiser’s Edge with messy data that may have been entered by a temp or may have even been ‘guesstimated’ (i.e. setting a Title = Ms. when the record is a female).
Did you find these five must-ask data integration questions helpful? If so, we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org