In the ever-evolving landscape of nonprofit organizations, it’s more important than ever to maximize efficiency, streamline operations, and, ultimately, make a more significant impact on the causes you’re passionate about. One powerful tool that can help you achieve these goals is integration. But it’s not just a nice-to-have; it’s critical for nonprofits to grow their impact.
This blog post will break down the three main types of integration so you can choose the perfect fit for your organization’s unique needs.
How Data Needs for Nonprofits Have Dramatically Changed
Before we dive into the specifics of each integration type, let’s explore why integration is more than just a buzzword for nonprofits.
In recent years, the data landscape for nonprofits has undergone a seismic shift. Gone are the days when a single spreadsheet could manage donor information and program outcomes. Today, nonprofits deal with an ever-expanding array of software systems and applications, each serving a specific purpose but often operating in isolation.
On average, nonprofits use around 10 to 20 different software solutions, creating data silos that can hinder efficiency and growth. According to a survey by the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), 72% of nonprofits reported using three or more systems that don’t talk to each other. This data fragmentation has resulted in many challenges, including significant time wasted on manual data entry, bottlenecks in decision-making, and impersonalized donor communications.
As nonprofits grapple with these challenges, integration solutions have become essential to break down these data silos and harness the full potential of donor information.
Integration empowers nonprofit organizations to achieve a dramatic improvement in data accuracy. This paves the way for streamlined workflows, a substantial decrease in human errors, and the elimination of time-consuming tasks like reconciling duplicate data. It also enables more strategic decision-making, leading to the enhancement of personalized, precisely targeted donor communication. Ultimately, these improvements culminate in a more profound and meaningful impact on the causes they passionately serve.
Why Integration Matters for Nonprofits
By recognizing the importance of integration and selecting the right type for their specific needs, nonprofits can overcome these data-related hurdles and focus on what truly matters – advancing their mission and making a positive difference in the world.
Every dollar and hour saved counts in a sector where resources are often limited. Integration can help in the following ways:
1. Efficiency. Nonprofits can have many data applications and systems – from donor management to ticketing, email marketing, payroll, and fundraising platforms. Integration helps these systems communicate with each other, reducing manual data entry and ensuring that your team spends less time on administrative tasks and more time on mission-critical work.
2. Data-Driven Decision-Making. Integration allows you to consolidate information from different sources into a centralized view. This empowers your organization to make more informed decisions, track outcomes, and demonstrate the impact of your programs to donors and stakeholders.
3. Enhanced Donor Engagement. With integration, nonprofits can streamline donor communication processes and ensure that donor data is current and precise. By automating tasks such as sending timely thank-you emails or efficiently processing recurring donations, you can engage with donors more effectively, leading to the cultivation of long-lasting and meaningful relationships.
At a high level, integration enables nonprofits to streamline many different aspects of their day-to-day operations. However, not all integration solutions are equal and many often serve a very specific purpose. Let’s review the different kinds of integration solutions available for nonprofits today.
1. Data Integration
Often known as data extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) tools, data integration solutions combine data from different sources, often with varying formats and structures, into a unified view for transparency, reporting, and decision-making. Most commonly, they are used to extract, load, or replicate data into a centralized warehouse for reporting and analytics (e.g. self-service business dashboards, machine learning). They specialize in processing large volumes of raw data periodically via batch jobs, and often require technical expertise to build custom logic that transforms the raw data into a more usable format for the end user.
2. Application Integration
Application integration focuses on connecting different software applications to share data and functionality, creating a seamless user experience and improving overall efficiency. This type of integration enables applications to transfer data in near real-time, eliminating data silos and improving overall data accuracy.
There are several different types of application integration, including native, middleware, and custom integration.
1. Native Integrations
These are pre-built connections specifically designed to link two applications, making them an attractive choice for simplicity and reliability.
Native integrations are a cost-effective options for nonprofits with limited budgets, as they often come at no additional cost or are included in the application’s subscription. However, this convenience frequently comes with trade-offs, such as limited flexibility—native integrations have limited data customization and are not a scalable solution when tasked with connecting multiple systems. As a result, nonprofits often experience challenges with errors or duplicate records when managing complex data flows.
2. Middleware Solutions
Middleware solutions act as intermediates between different systems to facilitate the exchange of data. Unlike native integrations, middleware solutions are more equipped to be able to scale as a nonprofit’s tech stack grows and becomes increasingly complex. For organizations that need to connect multiple applications to their nonprofit CRMs, these solutions provide users with much more flexibility regarding data transformation and mapping capabilities and help ensure that data is accurate and consistent across systems.
This flexibility comes at a cost in terms of initial setup, subscription costs, and ongoing maintenance, all of which can be a challenge for nonprofits with limited budgets and resources. Implementing middleware can also be complex, often requiring either internal or outsourced development personnel to customize the solution for the organization. As a result, smaller organizations may not consider most middleware solutions as viable options for their integration needs.
However, not all middleware solutions are expensive or resource-intensive to maintain! Omatic Cloud provides organizations of all sizes with a cost-effective, zero-code solution for connecting any application with leading nonprofit CRMs like Blackbaud and Salesforce.
3. Custom Builds
Lastly, many organizations opt for building their own custom integrations from the ground up and design them to meet their unique data needs and workflows. Organizations often choose this path if there are no alternative solutions to address their specific integration requirements, or if they are unwilling to commit to the expensive ongoing subscription costs that frequently come with middleware.
However, building custom integrations can be extremely time-consuming and costly, requiring skilled developers for development and ongoing maintenance. In particular, custom integrations are at more risk of breaking over time whenever there are major API updates to applications. If the organization is working with a system integrator or agency to maintain the code, this can increase overall costs in the long-run.
Despite these challenges, the benefits of customized nonprofit data solutions often outweigh the drawbacks for organizations with highly specific integration and data management needs.
3. Workflow Automation
Workflow automation involves automating repetitive manual organizational tasks, processes, and workflows, often to reduce labor costs. Some examples of this in practice include:
- Donor Onboarding and Engagement: Nonprofits can automate donor onboarding processes, ensuring that new donor data is collected, entered into the system, and engagement journeys are initiated automatically. This leads to quicker and more personalized engagement with donors, fostering stronger relationships.
- Donation Processing: Workflow automation can streamline donation processing by automatically categorizing and recording donations, generating thank-you emails, and issuing tax receipts. This reduces the administrative burden and ensures accurate and timely processing of contributions.
- Gratitude and Stewardship: Nonprofits can automate the sending of personalized thank-you messages and impact reports to donors after each contribution. This practice fosters a culture of gratitude and stewardship, increasing donor loyalty.
While workflow automation solutions are great at automating repetitive tasks, they are not as powerful as application or data integration solutions when it comes to handling complex, large volumes of data or even specialized automations. Because of the limited data customization capabilities, many organizations may find it necessary to use workflow automation and application integration to create streamline their end-to-end processes and data flows.
How Do You Choose the Right Integration for Your Nonprofit?
Now that you better understand the three main types of integration, how do you decide which one is right for your organization? There are many factors a nonprofit should consider when choosing the right solution – from data volume, to compliance considerations and budget. Schedule a customized demo with one of Omatic’s integration experts and get all of your questions answered!