We Are All Data Managers. Learn How to Up Your Game. (Video, Podcast, Transcript)

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Webinar: We Are All Data Managers. Learn How to Up Your Game.

In We Are All Data Managers. Learn How to Up Your Game! we outline the Six Steps to Becoming a Data Management Ninja.

This webinar teaches the skills, many of which are non-technical, that any nonprofit staff member needs to improve their role in data management.

The Six Steps to Becoming a Data Management Ninja

  1. Learn the nonprofit landscape
  2. Understand the relationships
  3. Learn your technology
  4. Become a data quality nerd
  5. Become a great communicator
  6. Become a super sleuth

Watch the video to learn more about why each of these steps is important and what you can do to get started!

Show Notes

This presentation is in two parts. The first part lasts until the 14:00 minute mark, and contains the formal presentation. The second part of the video is dedicated to Q&A with participants. We answer questions about getting started with data quality initiatives, emphasizing the value of leadership’s involvement in data strategy, integrations, and more.

Near the end of the first part of the presentation, a slide is provided listing the resources (including links) mentioned in the presentation. See also the video and transcript of this webinar: How Data Quality Defines Your Organization.

For More Information…

If you watch this video and have questions that remain unanswered, please reach out to us.


  1. How do you get everyone in an entire organization to recognize and fulfill the roles as data managers and users? And particularly for organizations with very limited staff resources?(14:48)
  2. How do you ensure enough data being entered, not too little making it worthless and not too much, so no one is overwhelmed? (15:47)
  3. Do you have any suggestions for resources for communicating more effectively? We don’t have an internal communications function. (18:42) 
  4. What role does data governance play? Can you share some examples of successful approaches to data governance? (19:59) 
  5. I’m a leader within my organization. Everyone seems to be on the same page about how important data is but we don’t get anywhere in practice. How can I get this so it’s more actionable? (21:30)
  6. How to better manage and understand organizational data and files being saved in the cloud with services like One Drive, Dropbox, systems like that. (23:20)
  7. We have a bunch of systems that have data in them but they don’t talk to each other and so I feel like they are all siloed. Is this a governance problem and would a governance committee help? (24:38) 
  8. Our IT director keeps talking about Zapier which she calls middleware and she thinks that’s going to solve a bunch of problems. What’s your experience with middleware helping to solve these types of problems and also who normally manages Zapier? (27:24)


Peter Mirus:
Good afternoon and welcome to the August (2017) webinar for Community IT Innovators, titled, “We Are All Data Managers – Learn How to Up Your Game.” This month’s webinar is presented in partnership with Build Consulting.

Before we get started on the webinar, here are a few housekeeping notes. Please interact with us by asking questions via the chat feature in GoToWebinar or by connecting with us via Twitter. During the presentation, avoid multi-tasking. You may just miss the best part. And finally, links to the recording, insights, will be shared after the webinar.

Now, a little bit about Community IT and Build Consulting. We both work exclusively with non-profit organizations to help them make information technology and information systems decisions to support their mission. We have a collaborative approach, empowering our clients to make informed choices for their organizations.

My name is Peter Mirus and I’m a partner at Build Consulting. At Build, I serve non-profit organizations as a part-time chief information officer and a project leader for data and technology initiatives. Clients I have worked with include such as the Humane Society of the United States and Neighbor Works  America.

Build Consulting leads in the social good sector by providing three types of services: we service part-time or interim chief information officers for non-profits; we perform business process, technology and data projects ranging from strategic assessments and technology road maps to system selections and implementations; and with Build Teams, we provide outsourced data managers with deep development operations experience and non-profit CRM expertise.

So, before we talk about how to become a better data manager, a good question is to ask why all non-profit staff members fit into this category of data manager. And the answer is in ways both large and small, every person working at a non-profit shares some data management responsibility whether you’re in development, programs, finance, HR, IT, the executive office or any other department, you’ve got to manage data effectively.

Managing data could be entering data and keeping it up to date or running imports, exports or reports but it could also mean just conducting the kind of operations that create the environment for good data management. From building an organization’s culture to hiring the right people, designing and managing a program or a campaign or simply properly executing a process that leads to a good outcome. So, like it or not, we are all data managers and we all have skills that we need to develop to go along with that.

And as data managers what are the skills we need to up our games? That’s gonna be the focus of today’s presentation.

And I’m gonna show you six steps to becoming a data management ninja. I’m gonna spend about fifteen minutes on the presentation and then we can use the remainder of the half hour to answer any questions, that you might have.

So, first of the six steps is to learn the non-profit landscape.When you don’t know how all parts of your non-profit work, it’s more difficult to put you on data management efforts into context. And if you don’t learn how non-profits work in general, it is hard to bring important outside perspective to your own organization and to your own role in data management. If you’re only aware of your own little piece of the landscape, it’s harder to understand how it connects to the other pieces. Understanding more of the full context will help your own data management responsibility seem more connected, helping you to make better decisions and provide motivation for the tediousness of carefully managing your piece of the data, no matter how large or how smaller, no matter what your role.

One book, I found particularly helpful in understanding how non-profits work is called the Jossey Bass Handbook of Non-profit Leadership and Management which you can get on Amazon. It’s a bit of an academic read but it describes non-profit leadership and governance, operations, developing and managing financial resources and leading and managing people. But there are many other books, articles, blog posts and webinars about the nature of non-profits and how they function in modern society. You can find them just by doing a Google search. And I recommend just starting to get a little bit more of a picture in your mind about what non-profits are, how they function, what best practices are out there, how your organization uses those best practices and applies them to its own mission.

The second step is, I call it understanding the relationships. Data is basically all about relationships. In data management, you always have at least two things and you’re trying to understand the relationship between them. Let’s take the example of the environment. So much of our work on environmental issues is focused on human kind’s relationship to the world around us and the desired outcome of bringing that relationship into proper balance. So, in that example, human kind is the first thing, the environment is the second thing. The data we collect describes the things themselves and the give and take relationship between the two. We need to learn about and understand the relationships our non-profits engage in as well as the desired outcomes.

Let’s say, that you’re interested in better management of donor data. The first thing to ask yourself is who are our donors? What relationship do we have them? What are their needs and expectations? What do they provide to us and what do we provide to them? In other words, what is the two way exchange within the relationship and from there, you can start asking yourself what data, you need to understand, support and grow that relationship.

The third step to become a data ninja or data management ninja is to learn your technology.People can spend hours and hours trying to accomplish data management tasks that could be accomplished in minutes with better knowledge of their technology.

Software companies often make a wealth of information available about their products’ features in the form of briefings, blog posts, webinars, community forums and more. And make sure to leverage the support provided by your vendor to get answers and find resources.

With a little more knowledge of the technology, you might learn the report that takes ten hours to produce only need take ten minutes.

I suggest you make a list of the software you use to manage data including every day ordinary tools like Microsoft Office. Do some Googling to identify the best resources available to meet your learning style. Once you’ve created that list, pick a place to start and set some goals for yourself. For example: “This week, I’m going to spend time reading an article on how the campaigns feature works in my CRM system.” “Next week, I’m going to watch a short video on how to remove duplicates from a list in Excel,” and so on.  There are a lot of great tips and tricks, you can pick up out there and processes for tools, you use every day that you might not even be aware of. And yes, the example I provided earlier about taking ten minutes to produce a report that have previously taken ten hours is an example from real life. A client of ours learned that there was a button, they could push to pretty much produce the report instantaneously that they had been manually putting together over the course of more than a day.

The fourth step is to become a data quality nerd.High quality data is something everybody wants but very people have. Everybody should get a little bit nerdy about data quality because this is something where everybody needs to work together. But hey, data quality is cool. Becoming a data quality nerd is chic. You get a little knowledge to help inform your perspective and then you can wow your friends and colleagues with data quality bombs like, “Hey, did you know there are six dimensions of data quality, completeness, accuracy, validity, consistency, timeliness and integrity?” If you’re interested in taking a dive into the subject, you can watch the webinar from 2015 that we produced titled, How Data Quality Defines your Organization. And a link to that webinar’s recording and links to the other resources I mentioned will be available at the end of this presentation. And it will be available on the slides that we make available after the fact.

The fifth of the six steps to becoming a great data management ninja is to become a great communicator. Clear communication about data and the data management process is critical to avoiding mistakes that will lead to data inaccuracy. Communicating clearly about data priorities and processes, then listening and implementing feedback as a team is extremely important. Data management is never perfect just like data is never perfect, just like the things that the data describe in the real world are never perfect. Without these critical conversations taking place inside our organizations, how will we improve data management outcomes?

Data management and how to get better at it should be a part of the open dialogue of an organization. So, do your part where you can to contribute. Learning how to communicate clearly in business environments can be learnt by reading simple articles like “Five Ways to Communicate More Clearly” from Inc. magazine and “Six Ways to Clearly Communicate Complex Information” from Click Base. And time and time again, over the course of my career, I’ve seen people in various roles within organizations definitely step up their game by learning how to communicate more clearly and fully about data and email correspondence; that’s a very critical thing.

And the sixth and final step to becoming a data management ninja is to become a Super Sleuth. Good data management at times relies on problem solving sometimes requires complex logic. It can really challenge your investigative skills. And you’re going to be asking questions like, “Why does that active donor account look weird?” And then you do some investigation and it turns out, oh, we included deceased donors in the report. You might ask, why did the report number from August program activity change so dramatically? What happened? Oh, it turns out a program manager batch imported more activity for August in November. So many people at non-profit organizations see something that looks a little bit strange to them, and then they just let it go by. But you shouldn’t wonder why and let it go. Put on your detective hat and figure it out.

There are numerous articles on how to approach problem solving or troubleshooting including such resources as mindtools.com. But I would suggest, you start by asking yourself these two questions: One, “Do I take the time to thoroughly define the problem that I’m experiencing or another is experiencing and its impact?”  And two, “When I’m investigating a problem, do I take notes on what I’ve reviewed, discovered and attempted?”

The data management ninja becomes a more valued employee and contributes to better mission outcomes. If you become part good at your part in data management, whether that part be large or small, you’ll become a more valued employee because you will provide your organization with skills that not enough people have the care or ability to develop. If your organization becomes better at data management because of your contributions, you’ll be doing that much more to help make the world around you a better place.

So, again these are the six steps to becoming a data management ninja.

  • Learn the non-profit landscape,
  • Understand the relationships,
  • Learn your technology,
  • Become a data quality nerd,
  • Become a great communicator
  • Become a super sleuth.

Now, under each of those headings that we just reviewed, there are a lot of different things that you could do of which I’ve only provided a few examples to learn how to improve your skills. And if you’re feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all of the skills that you might need to develop to become a top flight data manager in addition to taking care of whatever responsibilities you have on your role in your organization, don’t worry. I often say to my clients, “Rome wasn’t built in a day but parts of it were.”

So, pick one thing to focus on, like improving your communication skills. Be open with your colleagues about what you’re trying to do and get their feedback on how effective you’re being. When you feel natural and comfortable with your new skills in that area, go ahead and move onto the next thing.

And here are some of the resource links that I talked about. Jossy-Bass Handbook of Non-profit Leadership and Management, our webinar on how data quality defines the organization, one of the two articles that I mentioned that will provide some tips about clearly communicating information and the site mindtools.com which has a wealth of information that helps about creative problem solving.

Now, I’m happy to answer any questions that you might have about the subject, about data quality in general. If you have anything, go ahead and put it into the chat. I know, that there were some questions that were positioned before from registrants, so I’m happy to get into those as well. I’ll just pause for a quick moment to see if anything comes into the chat window. Nothing popping up right away. So, I’m gonna go ahead and discuss a couple of points based on some questions that we got in advance of the presentation.

We got a number of questions that revolved around this basic theme: How do you get everyone in an entire organization to recognize and fulfill the roles as data managers and users? And particularly for organizations with very limited staff resources? (14:48)

I think that is a matter of primarily education first and foremost. So that people understand how the poor data management decisions in each person’s role result in poor outcomes for the organization. And also it’s a byproduct of leadership. I think that good data management and making that a part of everybody’s individual role or an embedded part of their job description is a lot about leadership and how that forms the culture of the organization. If you’re interested in reading more about this subject, you can go back and look at the Build website at Thisisbuild.com (now buildconsulting.com) and see some past blog posts and articles that speak to governance and improving operations.

Another question was, How do you ensure enough data being entered, not too little making it worthless and not too much, so no one is overwhelmed? (15:47) That’s a great question.

A lot of organizations are overwhelmed by the vast amount of data that they can or might be able to collect about their activities, about their donors etc. And when you have so many different data points that you need to manage, how can you make sure to do it all effectively.

I guess, there is an old axiom that reads: would you rather have a large quantity of low quality data or a small quantity of high quality data? And I think that the answer is of course, you want high quality data and you want as much data as you can manage. And part of that is about human resource and budgetary constraints. So, I think you start with relationship question that I posed earlier. Because it is all about the relationships. We used two examples earlier. One about relationships between humankind and the environment which is very broad, of course. And then another example of the relationship between your organization and your donors. And one of the things that I find is that really taking a look at that relationship and what’s expected in a two-way exchange of value in that relationship helps you understand what data you must have in order to fulfill your “obligations” within that relationship. And then you can look beyond that more opportunistically other data points that might help to produce new opportunities for your organization, if you’re able to learn a little bit more, manage a little bit more data that might indicate what other opportunities might be present etc.

Also don’t underestimate the fact that there is a lot of opportunities for data automation, these days keeping up to date for data services particularly data about constituents. So, you’re not constantly having to manually maintain that information. You can get sort of a sense of what that information is by using a data service to discover household income, to validate or update addresses, etc.

There are also opportunities to collect representative information about constituents through surveys rather than maintaining that data point on each individual constituent record as another example. So you might say, you might pull a representative section of your donor base or your constituent base and take the lessons learnt from that and apply that to your strategy rather than having to collect and maintain that information about every single constituent.

So, there is a couple of ideas that I introduce to folks who are trying to prioritize what data they can or should manage with the resources and try to figure out what’s the right balance between having too little worthless data and too much so that it’s just totally overwhelming for people to stay on top of.

Another question is:  Do you have any suggestions for resources for communicating more effectively? We don’t have an internal communications function. (18:42) That’s a good question.

I touched on some of them. Mindtools.com has a lot of information about that. There is a lot of information online about communicating more effectively both internally for internal communications ranging from communicating about your brand and culture internally to just better day to day communications practices. We take a look at a lot of different sources for that in forming our own internal practices and constantly strive to be better. We look at Inc. magazine, we look at Harvard Business Review. We look at resources that are produced by communications associations, that focus on internal communications. And then there are also a number of resources out there for communicating externally.

An aspect of communication with regards to data that it didn’t focus on in this particular presentation was about communicating about data to external audiences and basically telling stories with data.

Another question that we got is: What role does data governance play? Can you share some examples of successful approaches to data governance? (19:59)

Data governance is extremely important. Having a good information strategy and goals and priorities and standards for data and data ownership inside your organization, defined rules and responsibilities and standards for quality is important. That’s something that can be proposed to the number of different levels inside of the organization, but information governance or data governance as a whole really starts at the top.

And we’ve learnt over the course of our careers that when leadership is effectively engaged on this issue and consistently engaged, it makes all the difference in terms of data quality. And leadership also needs to walk the walk, if they are gonna talk the talk. If, you have leadership that’s talking a lot about data quality and then blatantly ignoring its own data quality standards, in their own practices, it can have a real deteriorating effect on people’s motivation to maintain high quality data. Because it is drudge work at times and it can sometimes feel like it’s taking you away from what you really got into the non-profits space to do.

Another question is: I’m a leader within my organization. Everyone seems to be on the same page about how important data is but we don’t get anywhere in practice. How can I get this so it’s more actionable? (21:30)

That is a great question. And I think the answer to that is, it’s important again for leadership to take a role in this, to set up the strategic initiatives and working committees and working groups that sort of carry forward the dialogue about data inside of the organization. And I think it’s important to have a theme to pivot off of. And it’s good to try to have that theme be mission-connected, if possible. One of the ways that data is important to an organization is because it helps tell the story of the organization more effectively and usually when you’re able to tell the story of your organization more effectively, it helps to further your mission by bringing more person’s eyeballs to your cause, bringing more dollars into the mix to help fund your initiatives etc. So, oftentimes that’s the pivot. You want to get out there and tell the story and that story is in part not just anecdotal but it’s about data as well and using those key data points to really drive home to critical audiences, the values that you’re producing in the space.

So, I would say, it’s a combination of leadership setting the tone and starting the initiative and if they need any assistance in that or learning how to get that going, they can certainly reach out to Build Consulting and get some ideas or engage us in a project to help do that. And then we can help build the capacity inside of the organization to really take leadership around data, data management and data quality and then help to translate that into practices for the organization. So, starting with leadership, moving onto management and then having it work through all the different levels of the organization.

Another good question, we had a couple of people ask questions about:  How to better manage and understand organizational data and files being saved in the cloud with services like One Drive, Dropbox, systems like that. (23:20)So, these are more document management systems, file sharing systems, and for assessing possible new structures to help organize that information better and make it more discoverable. This is a really hot topic for a lot of our clients. We just did a box.com technology and sort of organizational review for a client. And there are certainly ways to develop organizational taxonomies and structures in those systems like one drive, dropbox, box.com, etc.

It would be great to have a follow-up conversation with whomever asked those questions specifically, to get a little bit more knowledge about their particular situation. But we are happy to engage on that. There are ways that you can go about determining how to establish a categorization structure and working file classification or organization system that just keeps things from going nuts and being the place where files go to die, basically.

Okay, so we have another question about: We have a bunch of systems that have data in them but they don’t talk to each other and so I feel like they are all siloed. Is this a governance problem and would a governance committee help? (24:38)

That’s another great question. If you’re in that situation, you’re not alone. A lot of non-profits have difficulty integrating their data in part because departments don’t want to deal with integration issues that would cause them to get distracted from what their primary focus is and in part just because it’s a challenge in the non-profit space to get systems integrated at a meaningful level.

So, the first thing to do is talk about what the potential strategic and operational gains are in having tighter integration. And maybe if you don’t feel comfortable taking that on as a broad subject, you could focus on one particular area and establish a use case around it. So, for example, if you are using two products even from the same vendor like Blackbaud, like the Raiser’s Edge and Luminate Online which are donor management CRM system and a marketing automation platform respectively, you might want to get constituent information shared across the two systems. But the tools that Blackbaud provides for that purpose are not very high quality. So, you have to go with third party solutions. And so, understanding how to do that, how to define your data model on both sides and map it together is something that can be costly, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. So, it would require leadership to acknowledge a need to invest in that initiative. But it’s also an area where you can take a small use case, say what it would take to integrate at this particular level and expand that out more broadly. Again, it has a lot to do with the specifics of each individual client. We are happy to have follow-up conversations with anybody that finds themselves in that situation and has maybe just even a question about how to move the ball forward about integrating disparate data systems. Something we work in a lot.

So, whether it’s Blackbaud products or Salesforce, we sort of help facilitate and strategize how those conversations about integration needs to take place, what the benefits are and then we help line up vendors who can really do a good job supporting your integration and put you in a position to maintain that over for a long period of time.

I think, we have one final question that’s coming in, and that is: Our IT director keeps talking about Zapier which she calls middleware and she thinks that’s going to solve a bunch of problems. What’s your experience with middleware helping to solve these types of problems and also who normally manages Zapier? (27:24) Okay. That’s kind of a loaded question. Zapier is a great tool for quickly integrating multiple different systems together. You know, sometimes in more limited ways and sometimes in more complete ways. So, for example, if you had a registration form on your website that was provided by Mail Chimp or some other marketing automation platform, and you wanted to have that automatically create a new contact record in your CRM system like Salesforce, you could use Zapier to do that.

It’s pretty quick to spin up. It doesn’t require a lot of technical ability. Typically that’s been within the purview of IT but in a lot of our organizations, we see a lot of individual tech savvy department folks trying to spin up these integrations. And I think it’s just appropriate to keep everybody on the same page. We’re far past the point where IT has become the sole dispenser of technology to the organization. Technology is so self-service these days that that’s not gonna be the case and individual departments or sometimes gonna want to take matters into their own hands and with modern technology, they will be able to.

Having a cohesive information strategy a good plan, good data governance, helps keep everybody on the same page. Helps determine whether Zapier is appropriate as a solution or whether it’s one of the other middleware solutions that are out there that perform a similar function or whether or not a more complete sophisticated integration tool is necessary. And again, that’s just an area where you have a problem and you do your investigative work. Zapier might be a good solution. It might not be for a variety of different reasons. There also might be other solutions out there that your organization hasn’t found but are within reach in affordability that could address those kinds of issues. So, Zapier is cool. It’s very helpful. It’s by no means generally speaking a tool for doing complex integrations between two complex data models in our experience. And a lot of times for our clients that are using more non-profit market specific solutions, Zapier just doesn’t have tools to connect with their systems.

Well, it’s 4:31. This is half an hour webinar. So, we’re out of time for today. But I really appreciate all of the folks that participated in this webinar. We had great registration and participation. A lot of great questions.

If there was a question about that you didn’t get answered, feel free to send an email to us at Build Consulting. …So, thanks everyone for participating again and have a great evening.

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