Nonprofit data are like world travelers – they come to you from lots of different places, speaking a variety of different languages, and they often arrive dirty and with baggage. But, like good, eager hospitality professionals, data managers take pride in their duty to get these travelers unpacked, cleaned-up, and integrated into the community for which they are responsible – talking to each other, complementing one another, and benefiting those who depend on them.
To pull back from this analogy into reality, nonprofits do get data from a variety of sources (places) in a variety of formats (languages), and in various states of cleanliness based on who entered them and how they were entered. If you think of the traveler’s destination ‘community’ as your main CRM database system-of-record, you want to effectively integrate all of your data from other sources into the main donor database effectively and efficiently: without manual effort, without creating duplicates, without letting misspelled names go uncorrected, and so it all can help tell the most up-to-date and complete story about your supporters.
There is also a need for speed that has evolved – these world travelers have to be assimilated into the community (ie, database) quickly because they are going to be used immediately. Nonprofits today need to access and utilize data right away in order to remain competitive among donors. Nonprofit end-users also need data to create as full a picture as possible of the donors or donor segments with whom they are interacting – think of those world travelers coming together for a family reunion: you need to see them all together to get the full picture of what the whole family looks like.
No hospitality manager does it singlehandedly, nor should data managers. Just like there are tools to make sure that road-weary travelers can check in expediently, rooms don’t get double booked, and residents have hot water every morning to remain clean and refreshed, there are data integration tools for data managers to use to ensure that their databases remain current, clean, complete, and as useful as possible to end-users – even with more and more new data arriving and being acclimated every day.
1. Data come from so many different places (sources)
Today’s nonprofits have embraced best-of-breed technology – the concept that, while the backbone of the organization’s data repository is its main CRM system, (eg, Raiser’s Edge NXT or Salesforce NPSP), certain satellite applications generally provide a better solution for certain key business needs, with richer functionality, and a better user experience both for the nonprofit and the supporter / patron / constituent. That, of course, leads to not one, but several repositories of germane data spread across the organization – just think of online gift data, online registration data, email marketing data, volunteer data, not to mention data from the systems that underpin your organization’s main purpose – students, parents, patients, members, ticket buyers, class-takers, worshippers, campers, clients, and more.
So much information today resides in so many different sources, but is needed in the main CRM system so that users of that data have a current and complete picture of the donors, supporters, and other constituents who they are working to engage and further involve. Getting all of that information into the main CRM can’t be done by hand, and rudimentary native import tools are cumbersome to use and often result in duplicates and other data errors which then have to be cleaned up manually. But a true data integration solution, built specifically for nonprofit systems, efficiently organizes and manages data coming at you from so many sources, while eliminating manual processes – saving time and expediently ensuring that your nonprofit’s main CRM system is routinely current and complete.
2. Data come in so many different languages (formats)
Best-of-breed systems were designed to do one thing very well, but without much thought given to other systems with which their data need to interact. These various systems generate output in different formats and layouts, with differing and inconsistent required fields, various header and footer rows – and differing challenges when attempting to translate into a common input format. This can lead to the need for manual file and record manipulation – wasting time and effort, and introducing the opportunity for human error.
A true data integration solution relieves that burden, and supports a consistent data exchange experience for all data sources and destinations, regardless of original file format or record layout. With a common user-interface, a consistent field mapping process, and validation along the way, your integration solution becomes an effortless ‘universal translator’, ensuring that the right source data get to the right destination locations, and that nothing gets lost in translation.
3. Data come in like weary travelers – dirty and with baggage
When we think of dirty data, the possibilities are almost endless – and even the most minor inaccuracy can have far-reaching consequences. One of the worst is that a minimal spelling or casing error can cause an imported record not to match an existing record and, ergo, creates a duplicate in the database.
Data furnished by other systems can have several hygiene-related problems. If they have been keyed-in by a supporter himself, there could be typographical errors, as well as casing problems – data entered in all upper or all lower case. There could also be data standardization issues – eg, your data standards always require periods after titles and suffixes and always spell out ‘Street’ and ‘Avenue’ – but the data get entered otherwise. And even when data have been hand-keyed or imported into a satellite system by a professional, there could still be typos – and certain systems’ output often includes ‘baggage’ – unwanted columns or rows of data that need to be stripped out or ignored.
A sophisticated data integration solution will clean up and transform data along the way as part of the integration process, so that casing is correct, your data standards are not compromised, and, perhaps most importantly, data coming in are properly matched to existing records so that only truly new records are created and duplicates are minimized. An intelligent integration solution can also properly ignore irrelevant data without requiring manual manipulation, ensuring your donor database is always optimized.
4. Supporters have become used to immediate response
Leaving the ‘world traveler’ metaphor aside for a moment, nonprofits continue to take pages from the commercial sector in a number of consumer-behavior areas, not the least of which is consumer – or supporter – engagement. Consumers – and nonprofit constituents – have become accustomed to expedient response, immediate gratification, and on-demand interaction. For donors in particular, that means an expectation that gift acknowledgments and stewardship correspondence will be sent promptly. For email sign-ups or opt-ins, there’s reasonable anticipation that a newsletter or impact report will be waiting in the inbox.
Gone are the days when nonprofits could claim lean staffing and rudimentary infrastructure as an excuse for delayed interactions. That said, lean staffing supported by high-performance integration technology can move donation and other data quickly from source to destination so that nobody is bogged down with manual processes, and current information can be used much more quickly to thank donors and keep them and all of your supporters appropriately engaged in the timeframe they have come to expect.
5. Fundraisers and other end-users need holistic access to data
Which brings us to the final point – nonprofits need effective integration technology so that those who rely on data to do their jobs can be as effective as possible. Fundraisers, email marketers, event planners and managers, volunteer program coordinators, program and financial analysts, and executives all depend on their organization’s main CRM database to maintain information that’s current, clean, and complete. In the absence of that – when data remain siloed, or when integration processes are manual or rudimentary and therefore prolonged – nonprofit professionals across the organization either cannot do their jobs effectively or don’t trust the data – or both!
A proper data health and integration solution mitigates against siloed information and ensures that data from all satellite sources are properly incorporated – expediently, hygienically, and fully – into the main CRM database. This strategy will go a long way to ensuring that everyone who needs it has access to data that are current, clean, and complete.
Getting your data to work
Someone was recently quoted as saying, ‘Oh, traveling . . . . that was so 2019.’ In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, the irony of that statement is palpable in light of the analogy that we’ve been using. Traveling – world and otherwise – has been greatly diminished, while commensurate surges in online donations, virtual events, and email communications to keep supporters engaged have dramatically increased the amount of data coming into satellite sources that then need to be integrated into your main CRM database: lots of data, coming from a variety of sources, in a variety of formats, and in various states of cleanliness. Data managers now more than ever before need intelligent integration technology to get those weary travelers checked in, cleaned up, and refreshed, so they can get to work.
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.