Article #5 - Data Overview

Article #5 - Data Overview

This article covers the main building blocks that your CRM uses to store data and offers advice on how to transfer and organize your existing data. Using your CRM successfully depends on storing data in the right place and in the right way, which can only happen with some thoughtful planning of mapping your data into your CRM .

Before thinking about your CRM structure, it is important to think about the systems you currently have in place to store and organize your data. Your data could be stored in a spreadsheets, another database or CRM (i.e. Constant Contact, Blackbaud, Nationbuilder or The Raiser's Edge), paper files or in someone's memory. In thinking about your contacts and their interactions with your organization, talk to your co-workers, including those who have been around the longest and those who have just joined. Talk to as many people as possible to get a complete picture of their interactions with all kinds of contacts.

Many organizations make the mistake of not thinking about who their contacts actually are. Spend some time identifying all the people involved with your organization. What different types of people do you interact with, and how do they differ from each other? The better you understand them and their interactions with your organization, the better you can model them in your CRM. Anecdotal or systematic feedback from your contacts may be useful.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself about your current data:

  1. Do you have an existing CRM?
  2. Do you have spreadsheets with information about your contacts, donations or other valuable data?
  3. Do you have any post-it notes or file cabinets with information about your community?
  4. Does anyone at your organization know a lot about community members?
  5. How does money come into your organization?
  6. What are the day to day tasks your staff and volunteers carry out?
  7. How do you currently communicate with your donors, members, volunteers and other community members? How would you like to communicate with them?
  8. How do you track activities and communications (emails, meetings, webinars, other events) that you have with your community?
  9. Do you have a list of donors interests and preferences?
  10. How do you handle new contacts?
  11. What classifications or labels are you using for your existing contacts (ie. alumni, students, parents, major donor, volunteer)?
  12. Are there any reports you would like to create? What information will they contain?

Your CRM has been designed to be flexible and adaptable but it may not map exactly to the ways that your organization currently works. Doing things the CRM way could mean adapting your workflow and adopting best practices in nonprofit technology. Be pragmatic and flexible and consider whether your current working practices need to change

It's worth remembering that your CRM offers many opportunities to interact with your contacts in ways that you have not previously had. Taking advantage of these new possibilities can lead to positive changes and improvements.

Think about the move

It might be useful to think about your pre-existing data in the same way as the contents of a house or apartment when you need to move. People often use moving as a chance to say, "Do we really need this? This stuff is too old; let's trash it and get some new stuff once we have moved in."
To apply this metaphor to your data, look for data that has no purpose, such as old organizational divisions that you've abandoned or office locations in a facility you no longer occupy.

Moving to a new living space doesn't just provide an opportunity to evaluate what's really important to keep and what can be left behind; it also gives you a chance to clean up everything that you do decide to take with you. Just as you wouldn't pack up dusty picture frames and dirty dishes because that would make your nice new clean place as dirty as your old place, you'll want to clean up your data before moving it into your CRM so that you're starting off with as clean and useful a database as possible. You can read more about this in the article "Mapping your Data".

Also, in planning for a move to your CRM, prepare to spend a good amount of time looking at your old data; standardizing how different elements of contacts' records are stored (e.g. are states entered as NY or New York?) and deleting obvious duplicates, accidental entries, outdated information, and corrupted records.