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Behind the scenes of data migration

Posted April 7, 2015 by Chris Bicknell

On Friday, March 13, Timi Paccioretti, Felicia Terry, and I gathered with a group of 20 or so nonprofit staff and volunteers in Nashville, TN. (Yes, we did experience several Friday the 13th-type problems, including Felicia’s car getting rear-ended! Happily, no one was injured, except the car.) Our goal was to explore data migration to a donor management system and Little Green Light. It was a productive session, a lot of great learning took place, and afterward Felicia and I talked through the following Q & A around migrating data.

Chris: Felicia, thank you for bringing us to Nashville and working with us on this “lunch and learn” session. We really appreciate your firm adding Little Green Light to the list of donor management systems you work with. Would you tell us a little bit about the firm, Nonprofit Software Specialists, and your background?

Felicia: I’m thrilled you and Timi flew down from New England to do this with me.

Our firm helps organizations and nonprofits from all sectors make their donor management/constituent relationship management (CRM) systems work for them. We use technical expertise and industry insight to provide solutions that are practical, lasting, and meaningful. We’ve primarily focused on working with clients using Raiser’s Edge, but we know a lot of other systems as well. We facilitate the Raiser’s Edge and Salesforce user groups in Nashville.

I started in this field as a Membership Assistant maintaining a member organization’s Raiser’s Edge system. For the next 13 years, I served in Annual Fund, Membership, and Capital Campaign roles with a women’s college, several different museums, the YMCA, a community health center association, and a Methodist conference. I was hired as an Implementation Specialist for a consulting firm providing donor management training and consulting services to nonprofits in the Southeast United States. The position confirmed my passion for donor management software, and I realized I had a “knack” and a love for training individuals. In addition to my role as the Principal Consultant of NSS, I serve as an Expert with the Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) in Nashville, TN.

Chris: What do you think are the three most surprising things your nonprofit clients find when it comes to migrating data into a new donor management system/CRM?

Felicia: First of all, I’ve found nonprofits are surprised that, on average, the data migration represents about 60 percent of the total investment of both time and money. There are times when people believe moving the data is like copying and pasting, so they don’t expect the high cost that is a necessary investment. Second, I think many nonprofits are surprised at how much they need to be involved in a data migration; often they believe they can “hand it off” to a consultant and have their data magically appear in the new system. Third, I find clients are genuinely surprised at the fact that although their data may be somewhat “clean”, it will take a significant amount of time to prepare their data for importing into the new system. And many times this involves formatting their data to reflect the new systems’ fundraising structure, addressee/salutations, date formats, note formats, etc.

Chris: What is a “pet peeve” of yours around client data and why?

Felicia: I’d have to say attempts to work with spreadsheets that “do it all” in a large number of columns are a pet peeve of mine. Large numbers of columns always lead to inaccuracy and errors. They don’t work well for managing constituent data, and they nearly always fail when migrating to a good donor management system.

Chris: What is your solution to these challenges?

Felicia: The solution is to create a good set of separate Excel type files (flat files) that mirror a well-structured system. This involves creating one spreadsheet with just the names and associated contact information in it and, at the very least, one other spreadsheet with the gifts in it. These can be connected by creating and utilizing a unique identifier for each constituent and being sure that ID is connected to each donor’s gift. Once a good ID is in place, a client can manage as many different spreadsheets as they want in order to focus on the right piece of data for normalization and import.

Chris: Why should nonprofits be making a large investment with a firm like yours in the transition process? Can’t they just “move” the data without spending so much time and money?

Felicia: This is a critical question and one nonprofits talking to me struggle with all the time. Engaging a firm like ours certainly has significant costs, however, the benefits are large. Here are few things to consider:

  • The best data decisions and best data are designed to meet a solid fundraising strategy. A firm like ours pushes nonprofits to articulate and agree on their strategy as part of the data migration. When data is managed in sync with strategy, it can be managed much more efficiently, thus saving the nonprofit major time and headaches going forward.
  • Many nonprofits lack any data procedures or processes. For example, if a new person starts working with the data and a constituent dies, does the organization have a consistent way it handles that data maintenance process? As part of our services, we provide the client with training around how to develop consistent procedures and processes, which, when implemented, help keep data clean and useful for years to come.
  • Because of our experience with a variety of donor management systems, we are able to help the client bring data into their new system so that they will be able to make better use of the new system sooner. We combine this knowledge with hands-on training in the new system with their data. This combination allows nonprofits to be using their new system effectively as soon as our contract is finished. That usually takes several months of struggle (lost time and less effective fundraising) away.
  • Bad data (duplicates, unusable gift history, data loaded in such a way that reporting doesn’t work) is extremely costly to nonprofits. Returned mail, upsetting donors, and missing appeal deadlines are all likely results of bad data. Engaging a professional firm like ours helps ensure those things are addressed.

Chris: Thank you, Felicia. With Little Green Light’s pricing being so affordable, we sometimes encounter people who have a hard time seeing the need to make a real investment in getting their data into LGL well at the beginning. However, underneath LGL’s easy-to-use interface is a data structure that is as robust as the most expensive systems out there. We find those nonprofits willing to make an investment in a firm like yours get a lot out of LGL. For more information about migrating data into LGL please visit our data migration page.

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