Part 2: Approaching Data Integration Strategically

In my last post, I talked about putting together the right team as your organization embarks strategic data integration.  The next key step has well-defined goals that everyone will want to work towards together. 

Over the years of working on data integration with NGOs and NPOs, I find myself asking them all the same question: “Why are you doing this?”  

The answers I get are all over the board – some are trying to save time, some are trying to save money, some are trying to get better usage out of the applications they already purchased.  

The only time I’m genuinely concerned is when someone doesn’t know why they are attempting data integration. Maybe that person is inheriting the project from a predecessor, or they weren’t involved in the decision-making. Either way, these individuals have been disconnected from the higher purpose of this project.

Everything feels a lot more difficult when the “why” is missing. Now imagine the exponential impact when your entire organization is missing the “why.” 

Types of Goals

It’s very easy to think about the technological goals of data integration.  For example, “We want all constituent emails to originate in Mailchimp instead of various systems, like Raiser’s Edge, Pardot, and Outlook.” 

The more difficult, but necessary, exercise is to think of your organizational goal: “We want to create a consistent image of our brand in all constituent interactions.”

Both the technological and organizational goals above were attempting to achieve the same outcome, but they trigger different conversations, considerations, and commitments. 

The bottom line is your organization’s goals should drive your technological goals. 

Getting your team to shift how they are thinking and talking about goals can be tough.  The organizational goals should be your driving force, and your technological goals should be specific and relevant. 

Ok, how?

I like to walk through the following “Ok, how…” exercise with every organizational goal to look for two things:

  1. Have we clearly defined the goal itself?
  2. Is there an underlying technological goal?

Here’s an example organizational goal:  

“We want to increase sustained giving and decrease reliance on major donors.” 

OK, how…? 

“We want to get our message out in a way that will drive more people to donate regularly.” 

Ok, how…? 

“We want to send targeted messages to appeal to specific groups, based on what we think will motivate them to donate.” 

Ok, how…? 

“We want to get the right constituent details into Mailchimp to segment our marketing lists properly, and then we want to get the campaign results back into our fundraising system for evaluation of what’s working and what’s not.” 

Did you catch that? That last one is the technological goal!  

Get Prepared

Now you know what to look for when evaluating product or service providers. By having both the lofty organizational goal and the tactical technological goal clearly defined, you’ll be ready for conversations with providers. They should care about both sides of the goal and be able to show you how their product or service will help you succeed. 

Try the “Ok, how” exercise with your team.

  • Start with a goal that your organization is already pursuing, or you can use a generic example like the one above to get the creative juices flowing. 
  • Keep pressing them for as many “OK, how” rounds as it takes to get to an actionable 
  • Once everyone is comfortable with using organizational goals to define technological goals, you’ll be able to ensure the “why” of a data integration project is never in question.  

What’s Next?

In the next post of the series, I’ll dive into the dreaded project timeline.  I’ll cover accurate estimation, risk mitigation, and how to recover when the project timeline feels like it has gone off the rails.