Nonprofits have sometimes lagged behind their commercial counterparts in the adoption of technology. However, one observation that’s safe to make is nonprofits have generally come to realize that ‘best-of-breed’ solutions support a more effective IT structure overall than integrated software systems. Best-of-breed applications generally provide a better solution for doing that one thing that needs to get done, with richer functionality, and a better user experience both for the nonprofit and the supporter / patron / constituent.
The wrinkle, though, is that best-of-breed – or ‘point’ – systems are generally unconnected and unintegrated, creating a bunch of data siloes, none of which provide a full picture of a supporter’s / patron’s / constituent’s overall involvement. One system may contain data related to event history and interests; another, email activity and newsletter preferences; a third, volunteer assignments and hours; a fourth, online donation history; and so on.
So – data from point systems need to be integrated into the main CRM system of record. When systems are not integrated, when key information is maintained in siloes and not consolidated, fundraising initiatives can become crippled. This occurs because fundraisers – up and down the pyramid – are missing fundamental information that can help them build relationships, send the best possible messaging, and elicit support to further the mission. And worse, when some of that siloed information is stale or just plain wrong, and not updated or corrected, relationships with supporters can be damaged and opportunities missed.
The Three ‘Cs’ of Nonprofit Data Integration
The benefits of using data integration technology – specifically designed and built for nonprofits – can boil down to three ‘Cs’ – Currency, Cleanliness, and Completeness. When a nonprofit’s database system of record is current, clean, and complete, data can be used confidently and strategically to drive increased donor acquisition and retention. This is done through cogent messaging and other fundraising interactions that leverage that very data to create a personalized and compelling experience for prospects and existing donors alike.
The currency, the freshness, of a nonprofit’s data will directly inform the messaging and interactions that take place between fundraisers and their donors and supporters. Consider, for instance, these three examples:
- If gift data is not up-to-date in the system of record – and if direct marketing segments are pulled before the most current gift data has been imported from the website or the lockbox system – current and lapsed donors may be pulled into the wrong marketing segments and sent inappropriate solicitation messaging.
- If supporters’ event participation is not up-to-date in the main database, they may be sent the wrong stewardship information or not sent anything at all related to the event in question.
- And, if email (or mail) preferences are not current in the main system, supporters may be sent the wrong email (or mail) at the wrong time (or to the wrong place).
Nonprofit integration software can ensure that data from all best-of-breed point systems are incorporated into the main database system in a timely and time-efficient manner, so that information is always fresh and current. Similarly, solid integration software can also take care of the ‘round trip’, so that the ancillary systems are sure to get updates – eg, street and email address changes or offline gift detail – that come into the main database first.
The greatest enemy of credibility with supporters is unclean data. This includes everything from erroneous biographical and mailing information, to duplicate records, to names and addresses with improper casing (eg, stan macmillan rather than Stan MacMillan).
Certainly, as a baseline, biographical and mailing data should be accurate. Names and addresses should be spelled properly; incorrectly spelled email addresses will certainly bounce back. With more and more biographical data coming into main systems from external online sources, very often it’s the supporters themselves who inadvertently misspell their own information when entering it on a donation page, or when updating their record online after a change in address or marital status. Donors and even first-time newsletter subscribers have been known to enter information in all lowercase (ohara, mcdaniel, sunset blvd.,) because it’s easier.
Standard import tools typically will not catch these errors and will often create new duplicate records for individuals if, for example, their incoming email address does not match the email address on the existing record. Think of this scenario – Stan MacMillan, a donor already in the system, makes a new online gift of $100, but inadvertently mistypes his email address. The standard web donation import does not match his mistyped email with his actual email, and so creates a new (duplicate) record for him incorrectly, but now with a bad email address, plus, his giving history on his actual record is now understated. He also gets no acknowledgment because of the erroneous email address. This has all at once become problematic – and ‘unclean’ – on so many levels!
Nonprofit integration software can ensure that your system of record is always clean and pristine by using sophisticated matching and scoring criteria to indicate whether a ‘new’ record coming in from an external source is actually already in the main system. In the example above, the integration software would have matched the gift from the person with the mistyped email address with the right donor record, added the gift, and discarded the erroneous data. The donor would have gotten a proper acknowledgment in a timely fashion. Further, the software would also properly ‘case’ person, company, and street names. In addition, it could translate input abbreviations such as ‘NYC’ to ‘New York’ or ‘Chi-town’ to ‘Chicago’, etc.
When data are maintained in siloes and not integrated, nobody within the organization can ever have a complete picture of their supporters. Just as bad, nobody in the organization can get an effective handle on groups of supporters who have characteristics in common – because information about them is fragmented and segregated.
By effectively consolidating data from various best-of-breed point systems into a single system of record, users across the organization are afforded a full, comprehensive, and complete picture of every supporter. And, just as important, they can effectively and confidently compile discrete groups of supporters with common characteristics, so they can be engaged in the most meaningful, effective ways possible.
As you’re considering the various apps and integrations available for your CRM solution (whether that’s for Salesforce, Raiser’s Edge, Blackbaud CRM, or other systems of record), be sure to choose integration software that will connect all of your systems together to consolidate data effectively.
Nonprofit integration software makes it easy and effortless to consolidate data from ancillary systems into the main CRM, and because the process is not complicated, data can be integrated daily or as often as is necessary. Plus, as discussed above, the software will ensure that only new data are added to existing records, that duplicates are not created, but that valid new records are added with proper attribution. Not only this, but integration software will ensure all of your systems are in sync rather than relying on one-off apps and integrations.
The Director of Development Services at a large nonprofit – $100 million in annual contributions and some 25,000 monthly donors – was ‘gushing’ about her integration software. She had at first marveled about how quickly the gift information and biographical updates were getting into the system – no more working overtime, no more sacrificed weekends or vacations.
But she soon realized that the true benefit of current, clean, and complete information was as much strategic as it was tactical. High-quality data – integrated into the CRM expediently and conveniently – gave her fundraising colleagues the head start they needed when pulling marketing segments so that campaigns were never delayed. And, they now had the ability to test discrete segments based on timely nuances in supporter behavior. And the most recent donors could be easily suppressed so as to not get embarrassing solicitations so soon after making a gift.
That’s just one example. Nonprofit integration software will eliminate the data silos that are the natural result of using best-of-breed solutions to effectively run the various pieces of a sophisticated and multifaceted fundraising organization. Such technology can ensure that data are integrated into the CRM system expediently, that records are properly matched, and that new records are only created when appropriate. It can clean-up issues like improper casing, bad abbreviations, and misspellings. And, it can furnish users with a comprehensive view of the supporters with whom they work.