Written By: Matt Hall - Aug 21, 2018
Blog4 min read

How Nonprofits Should Tackle CRM Data Integration (Testing)

Across the world, constituent relationship management (CRM) software is changing how nonprofit organizations engage with donors and supporters.

Consider this – a whopping 91% of companies with ten or more employees all use CRM software as a means to support growth initiatives. While businesses and nonprofits have slight nuances and different needs, more and more nonprofit organizations are embracing CRM software every day.

Constituent (or customer) relationship management tools are powerful and efficient means for nonprofits in tracking their relationships with donors and significant constituents. CRMs for nonprofits are geared towards recording everything about their constituents including essential donor data and their giving history.

Through the enhanced organization of data and providing a better way to engage constituents, CRMs empower nonprofits to have better success with future fundraising efforts.

The benefits of leveraging a nonprofit CRM are clear but getting data to flow both to and from these tools can be a challenge.

CRM data integration

What is CRM data integration?

Reduced to its simplest, CRM data integration is the process of importing large amounts of data into CRM solutions from external sources. The process can also include data which must be moved from a CRM into a nonprofit’s more extensive database.

Sources can include everything a nonprofit is recording and can live in countless places. From third-party cloud-based software to on-site databases, to miscellaneous information needing digitization, nonprofits have a lot of data at their disposal.

Why is data integration important?

Data integration is crucial for the modern nonprofit because it enhances insights and decision making through data analysis. Combining data from multiple sources provides a more complete picture of constituents and the organization as a whole.

With a more accurate picture, untapped opportunities will present themselves – the kind of opportunities that lead to collecting more donations. Integration is a mighty concept, and achieving success in this arena is easier said than done.

In the case of CRM data integration, many nonprofits face the issue of these tools lacking a native connection between their databases or other third-party tools. This means that integrating data is typically a lengthy process that requires a lot of time-intensive, manual work. On top of this work, database administrators also run the risk of having to deal with massive errors and other problems when moving data in bulk.

CRM data integration is an ongoing endeavor, but it is achievable. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind.

Identifying Desired Outcomes

A logical place to start with CRM data integration is by clearly defining and documenting all of your data needs. By adequately identifying these desired outcomes, database administrators should have a comprehensive map to help anticipate challenges down the road.

Organizations need to understand what they’re trying to achieve, strategically, then work backward to ensure they have the data to support those goals.

Defining systems and sources to bring together

Every nonprofit will have their preferred systems and tools for tracking information about constituents. This will be a blend of on-premises or cloud-based databases, third-party software (such as email marketing, event management, etc.), and other miscellaneous data sources.

While this seems like a no-brainer, laying it all out should provide an idea of the scope of a given integration project. Not every source of data will contribute valuable information, so it’s your responsibility to pick out which data you actually need. This prevents creating more work for yourself than necessary and reducing the amount of chaos associated with integration.

Synchronizations

Data integration comes in two forms; one-way and bi-directional.

One-way integrations are the most common. These happen when data is pushed from a source and into a destination system. These integrations are typically cheaper to implement and easier to maintain.

Bi-directional, however, is when two systems have continuous data synchronization between them. Having back-and-forth updates across a CRM and an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is one such example. These are often complex integrations to manage, meaning they can also be quite costly to develop and maintain down the road.

Miscellaneous revenue integration considerations

An often-overlooked part of revenue integration deals with reconciling needs up front. Finance departments typically like to reconcile deposits to imported data using specific timeframes or other criteria.

Keeping this in mind, it’s important to lay out these considerations up front to ensure integration supports reporting on imported sums in a way finance departments can use for reconciliation purposes.

Two women sitting a computer in the middle of a CRM data integration project

Detailed Data Mapping

Beyond identifying data needs, it’s essential to have a thorough picture of all data being considered. Nonprofits must understand how data from one system needs to move into another. Challenges and surprises can always pop up, even with careful consideration.

Data mapping can thwart potential issues by acting as a data dictionary that shows how data from one system maps to data from another. This can help anticipate problems late in development which can impact project schedules.

Data mapping oftentimes has a lot to do with data collection standards within a nonprofit organization. One such example of how data mapping can be useful is how it can detect and flush out incompatible data formats.

The idea behind data mapping is that by defining how data moves from one system to another, nonprofits can ensure that each piece of information winds up in the most appropriate place in the target data repository. One important thing to think about is that data mapping should be supported by sample data representative of both the common and uncommon scenarios likely to be encountered.

For example, if a typical source system occasionally includes multiple gifts from the same constituent, make sure to set up a sample data set with this test case to avoid surprises once live data is run through.

Takeaways

Because of the value nonprofits can get from integrating data to and from their CRM software, there’s no question about why it’s important. Although complex, integrating data from numerous sources and systems can be the difference between maintaining the status quo and pushing an organization to reach new highs.

If you’re on the verge of taking on a CRM data integration project, here are the important things to remember:

  1. Identify desired goals, ensure data being integrated supports those goals.
  2. Understand how data maps from one system to another.

If you’re interested in learning how to empower your nonprofit organization with data integration, contact us today to explore the best solution for your nonprofit.

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
blog author profile picture

About Matt Hall

Matt Hall, Senior Consultant at Omatic Software, is a BBCRM expert who has implemented and customized the BBCRM product since it was originally released by Blackbaud in 2007. Matt previously worked at Blackbaud, starting as one of the first technical consultants for BBCRM and moving up to a solutions architect position responsible for scoping, designing, and overseeing delivery of technical components for complex BBCRM projects. In addition to roles in the for-profit world as a senior programmer and QA engineer, Matt has worked elsewhere in the non-profit IT space as a systems architect for the University of Connecticut Foundation and as a senior programmer for the Georgia Tech Alumni Association.