As any business or organization continues to grow, so does the volume and complexity of data they retain. The reliability of this data is a concern for any nonprofit that seeks to turn their data into something meaningful. To avoid complications down the road and ensure that your nonprofit data is as reliable as possible, you can implement a data integration strategy.
A fully-realized data integration strategy lends structure to the flow of data, and creates guidelines for how data will be maintained over time. Below, we review data integration best practices and tips for getting started.
What Is Data Integration?
While nonprofits typically collect a lot of data, it’s rarely stored in a single database or format. Oftentimes, organizations leverage multiple software solutions to meet their business goals. As such, they run into the complexity of consolidating this plethora of information. Data integration is what happens when information from multiple sources is brought into one single location.
As the nonprofit organization adapts and grows, so too do the demands on their information systems. Over time, data may take on different forms such as when priorities shift within the organization.
A proper data integration strategy must be flexible and adaptable to accommodate data of multiple formats, regardless of whether it lives in the cloud or on-premises. Essentially, an effective strategy aims to find solutions which deliver trusted data from a variety of sources.
Benefits of a Data Integration Strategy
One of the principles of making data both actionable and useful is having a central location where information is easily accessible.
When data is centralized, it allows nonprofits to make more informed decisions. For example, if you were able to see a larger donor’s gift history, giving capacity, relationship, and other actions taken to show affinity, your organization could deepen its relationships with similar donors and help define appropriate ask amounts. With a more complete picture of your donors and prospects for future fundraising efforts, your team can hone in on your top opportunities and target based on trends and leading indicators of affinity.
A well executed data integration strategy can also help reduce the complexity of your data. Data integration is about managing complexity, and creating a simple method to deliver data to any system.
Lastly, the integration of data can streamline operations, increase productivity, and help forecast future needs for your nonprofit. When it comes to building your own strategy, the following best practices can help you get started.
Data Integration Thought Starters
Despite all of the benefits of data integration, a report by Experian revealed that 66 percent of businesses lack a coherent, centralized data strategy. Here’s a look at a few data integration best practices.
It All Starts with Your Data Sources
As you get started, the amount of data and considerations that come along with integrations can seem overwhelming. A helpful, quick first step is to take stock of all your different data sources. To start, list out all systems that receive data electronically such as form completions for donations, event registrations, ticket purchases, and memberships. Then, take account of all data sources that are manually maintained like spreadsheets and other lists.
Once you have a master list of all sources of data relevant to your organization, you can then shift focus to your organization’s method of data collection. Following a proper data collection approach ensures your organization has processes in place to collect, transfer, store, and secure data in a way that both protects your supporters’ information while also allowing your team to access the data for meaningful communications and fundraising outcomes.
Keep up With Trends
Some of the emerging trends around data integration include cloud technology (storing and accessing data and programs over the internet), Internet of Things (IoT, the trend that anything with an on/off switch that can be connected to the Internet will be), and big data (the large volume of data that runs through a business on a daily basis). All of these trends continue to be areas of increasing importance across the globe.
The value of data will only continue to grow, but so too will its complexity. Staying cognizant of trends can go a long way toward adapting your data integration strategy to fit the ever-changing landscape of data. To keep up with these changes, follow all releases for your technology systems (often times, in addition to release notes and webinars, technology companies share road maps for their future plans, giving you a glimpse into the direction the technology landscape is heading), attend nonprofit technology conferences where thought leaders from the tech and nonprofit space share insights and predictions for the future of the space, and connect with your peers—both across your vertical and beyond.
Modernize Legacy Systems
Older systems, often times referred to as legacy systems, aren’t exactly future-proof, so it may be worth it to replace those systems with more modern technology. If you continue to use legacy systems, you run the risk of requiring a patch at a point when developers no longer release patches or offer support. You could also spend an extensive amount of money on customizations if your legacy system has been customized elaborately and find that you reach a point of needing to upgrade to a new system, only to have to do that customization work all over again.
By gradually replacing your legacy systems, you remove the opportunity for these risks and ultimately allow your organization’s costs to be adjusted accordingly. On the other hand, if you continue with your legacy systems, you may run the risk of using a set of disjointed applications and processes that won’t be able to communicate with one another efficiently. The decision ultimately lies in what is best for your organization.
Dive Into Data Integration
Immersing yourself in your data integration strategy might feel daunting at first, but the right approach will allow you to take small steps over time that improve your operational efficiencies. A data integration strategy is an essential link between information and insight. Data integration frees up time to concentrate on analysis and forecasting and also contributes to the overall reliability and hygiene of your data.
Christina Wells is the Director of Corporate Marketing at Omatic Software where she leads demand generation programs to drive awareness and interest in the Omatic brand and product suite. Prior to joining Omatic, Christina acted as the Director of Marketing Automation for a marketing agency, and Director of Infrastructure for a publishing company, roles that highlighted her passion for the marriage of marketing and technology.