Preparing to Integrate Your Nonprofit’s Valuable Data
One of the most common pain points encountered by Build’s nonprofit clients is having constituent data in a variety of different systems that don’t talk to each other. This lack of integration means finding reliable data quickly (for leadership, donors, reports, etc.) is often not the easy automated process it should be.
Nonprofit organizations have long dreamed of having a broad view of their constituents. (These “constituents” might be donors, funders, program participants, members, volunteers, board members, grantees, students, etc.) A decade ago, before the expression was somewhat overplayed, both CRM vendors and non-profit organizations often referred to this as “a 360-degree view of our constituents.”
But for many organizations, this remains an unrealized ambition. And a primary reason for that is their constituent data is scattered across multiple software systems that don’t talk to each other. This makes it very difficult to do reporting and analysis that tracks the various constituents through their engagement with the organization, its brand, mission, programs, and events. Unfortunately, many organizations are forced to do this data collection manually.
The solution to this, of course, is to move towards better integration—but this can be a long and arduous pursuit, particularly for organizations with a wide variety of data across multiple systems (in some cases, this might include multiple databases and CRMs, not to mention Excel spreadsheets!).
Before you start to integrate your nonprofit’s valuable data, it is helpful to consider three key points:
- What are the business benefits you hope to achieve from integration? We recommend that you collaboratively establish a clear set of intended benefits that will serve as the north star to guide everything else that follows. Organizations should define the benefits, how they will measure those benefits, and what practical steps stakeholders will take to achieve them as part of the integration project. For example, one benefit might be to increase sustained giving by 10%. Another example might be to reduce the time spent in producing program performance reports by 50%.
- Do you understand your constituent landscape? Many nonprofits have an anecdotal sense of their constituent landscape, but few have ever performed anything close to a thorough identification of the constituent groups they serve, let alone mapping the journeys those constituent groups take with the organization. But this information is critical to understanding what data is collected, at what points, how it is related in real life, and how it needs to be connected to produce reports and insights.
- What data is necessary or nice to have? When nonprofits philosophically regard all their data as equally important, the consequence is often that they practically treat none of it as having importance because of data management resources being spread too thin across the data landscape. Build often encourages nonprofits to first document all the data that is necessary to maintain regarding their relationships – or in other words, what is essential to meeting its commitments to its constituents and to itself. Everything else is nice to have (optional, but not necessary)—or fits in the realm of what I refer to as “speculative”: data that you aren’t sure will generate value, but in which you deliberately invest in hopes of a future gain.
Taking these three questions into careful consideration can go a long way to integrate your nonprofit’s valuable data.
When planning for integrations, technological considerations are secondary to business considerations. Business needs should direct the technology, not the other way around. Yes, it is important to do a technical analysis of your current data landscape, including the business systems that you have, how you can move data in and out of them, and which are your systems of record for different data points. Do you need to change to different business systems altogether? Do you need a “data warehouse” or “data lake?” Do you need an ETL (extract, transform, load) tool? What about data analysis and visualization tools, etc.?
But those technical questions are far from the first step towards integration. The first step is making sure the organization is prepared for integrated process and data, from a business perspective—and doing this as the first priority will help ensure future integration success!
Need More Expertise?
Are you looking for an assessment and roadmap to ensure your organization is considering your business needs to software investments with long-term strategic value? Or perhaps you’re ready to have a conversation about a software selection process? Learn more on our Nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) solutions here. Whatever your nonprofit technology consulting needs, Build is here to help.