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Expert tips on moving to a new donor management system

Posted June 14, 2018 by Timi Paccioretti

expert tips on migrating to a new donor database

LGL interview: Experienced LGL data migration consultant shares learnings on migrating to new donor management software


Timi Paccioretti (Customer Success Manager at Little Green Light) recently talked with data migration consultant Carrie Grote about how she assists clients adopting a new donor management system, focusing on how she handles the migration process to maximize the client’s fundraising success. The conversation touches on data hygiene, planning for campaigns and appeals, and how to think about reconciling giving data with the accounting side of the books.

If you are considering changing donor management systems, we hope you find this interview useful as you go about making your decision.


Timi: What do nonprofits need to think about as they move to new donor management software? What is involved in the migration process, generally speaking?

Carrie: There are two parts to this answer.

The technical side: The first step is to export all data from their old CRM and clean and organize the data. The data is then layered and imported into LGL. Once the data is in LGL, we can explore making bulk changes to the data, check for duplicates, and run reports to analyze the data. I really appreciate knowing which reports are important to the client, from the accounting side and from the donor relationship side. This gives me a much better understanding of what decisions to make around organizing their data, while keeping best practices at the forefront.

The fundraising systems and organization side: It is helpful that the client be open to incorporating some new internal procedures with their new database, for example, taking time in a staff meeting to touch base about the database, establishing internal processes around consistent entry of constituents and gifts, and planning ahead for their appeals and events. In general, I try to guide the client into thinking about their fundraising plan, reporting needs, cleanliness of their data, and how they want to approach each step. I also make sure their accounting person knows what’s happening and isn’t blindsided by what is going to change.

I think it’s really important to take my clients through the process from the development perspective. My background includes 14 years of fundraising and development for various nonprofit organizations and independent schools, and this experience has given me the perspective of why a clean and consistent database is so important to raising money. Many of my clients are coming from a database that has changed hands multiple times due to staff turnover, with no internal process for keeping tabs on the integrity of the data, and most of them are moving forward with LGL because they have decided they need to start fresh with a new database.

But when you have the opportunity to start fresh, it’s about more than just taking your data from an old system, cleaning it up, and moving it to a new one. It’s more about talking through your fundraising strategy and how it relates to what you’re going to put in the database.


Timi: What do you find is often the biggest concern for those changing database systems?

Carrie: Most clients are initially concerned with reconciliation and gift coding. This is certainly a huge priority. But I also focus on how LGL can work for the client and save time by utilizing features such as appeal and event segmentation, LGL Forms, direct mail, and contact reports and tasks.


Timi: When clients come to you as they’re evaluating, do they realize they need to think about all that?

Carrie: I encounter clients who do not realize that a donor management system could do this—all of the relationship management. I often suggest to clients that they discuss their database in staff meetings, come back together and talk about how they’re using the relationship side of the database, and incorporate that into their regular staff meetings.


Timi: I remember having that practice myself, and it had a lot of benefits. But the big one is an awareness that it wasn’t on any single person just to maintain the database, that every person was building relationships in some way or another and had some responsibility in documenting that.

Carrie: Yes, everyone is a fundraiser in an organization! One way to maximize relationship tracking is by setting up team members with appropriate permission levels so they can track their relationships through the steward feature. Some people let that slip by, maybe because it wasn’t their original goal with the migration. They come with one goal, that they need to get their data into the system. But they come away realizing they actually can do more.

I’ve seen one client in particular who has really taken advantage of contact reports. They are a global organization with staff members in different parts in the world, and they have a system down where they are coming back together through staff meetings, reviewing contact reports and talking about them, and deciding what’s next. That’s one of my favorite pieces of the work. You’re going to get most of your money from major donors, and if you set it up well and keep track of those interactions, it can really pay off.


Timi: It’s not just a simple data transfer—it’s fundraising advice, really thinking through the bigger picture of using a CRM and the functionality it can provide.

Carrie: You’re absolutely right. Some organizations tend to have more capacity and more staff who can handle additional strategies in their shop. But for some who work part time, volunteer, or they’re the only development person, that may not be possible.


Timi: Is your approach different with these clients?

Carrie: A little bit. I tend to touch on some features and do a little bit of training at the end to expose them to what is possible. But I try not to overwhelm. However, some clients are really tech-savvy and need very little training on how to use the database. With those folks, I dive more into the advanced features.


Timi: Is there a typical migration process?

Carrie: There is! I describe it as a 3-step process: 1) Exporting the data, organizing it, cleaning it up, and layering it; 2) Importing, checking for dupes, and configuring, and 3) Training.

The first step can be a fairly quick process, sometimes as little as 1 to 2 weeks, but it can also take much longer, depending on the decisions that need to be made around gift coding. The gift data should ideally reconcile with the client’s accounting software, but it is rarely apples to apples as those are two different systems. I really encourage best practices in LGL on gift coding, and then coming up with a standard report that will give the client what they need in order to reconcile. The biggest challenge I see has to do with how clients think of campaigns versus appeals. So my goal is to help my clients understand how coding their gifts using best practices will result in consistent and reliable reports that will also give them a better understanding of their efforts and outcomes.


Timi: Does the light bulb go off then?

Carrie: Most people want to follow best practices and see that this is their chance to get it right. The data will be classified slightly differently in LGL than in their accounting software, but the client will still be able to search for what they need and pull it into reports.

One thing I like to ask, which starts to open up good conversation with clients, is what’s the one thing (or more than one thing) that you want to do in LGL that you haven’t been able to do in your old system? Sometimes it’s just running reports. Accurate reporting is definitely up there. Some are excited about the fact that they can do direct email right through LGL and run their acknowledgment letters without having to do a mail merge. People are super excited about efficiency, which plays into the capacity issue.


Timi: How long do your projects each take, and how much time do you schedule?

Carrie: I usually estimate four to five weeks for the entire migration piece. The training might take place further out, depending on client availability and scheduling.


Timi: Are there other aspects of your work with nonprofits that really excite you besides the actual conversion, the migration?

Carrie: I love digging into the logic around where the data is going and the problem solving. I really enjoy helping clients figure out where to capture their data in LGL and the information they will be able to glean from data placement. I love seeing a client get excited about their data and about the analytics that will help them fundraise better.

I do have clients who need a total overhaul of their existing LGL database. With those situations, one thing I really emphasize is that there is one and only one right place for their data in LGL. I ask questions like, does this piece of data apply to the entire constituent, or to a particular gift, or to one event/appeal, or to some other branch of the constituent? Answers to those questions can help determine where that piece of data should be placed, which sets the stage for consistency and reliable reports.


Timi: What they hope to be able to extract from the data they’re maintaining goes hand in hand with accounting and reconciliation.

Carrie: Yes. I think it’s important to understand that this isn’t simply moving data into a new system and then it’s business as usual. In order to keep the data clean and not have to go through all this again, there have to be internal practices to follow that help with data hygiene and consistency.

4 thoughts on “Expert tips on moving to a new donor management system

  1. Hi Timi, this is a great interview. I and my colleagues are often at the receiving end of these questions that you have put up in this interview. Since I am associated with an online donation tool who caters mainly to medium-sized nonprofits and charity organization, small organizations who turn into a medium-sized one often tend to ask these questions. The very first question that you have put up in this blog, is exactly what most of the questions revolve around. A large number of business managers is concerned about exporting their data from the old donor management software to a new one. I find this as the major concern relating to nonprofits. There should be ease while making changes in data, checking for duplicate items and cleaning up the data. Their priority is the efficiency with which this can be done.

    This interview has given me a better perspective of nonprofits thought process while they switch donor management software. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful piece of interview. It was very informative.

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