Everything but the Kitchen ... Sync!
As frequent readers of this column know, we’ve spent a fair bit of time profiling organizations that are making multichannel campaigns work — Oceana and using telemarketing to convert online activists to donors, data (segmentation strategy and clusters) to target messaging, etc.
Well, that is all fine and well — you might say — but since most of your data isn’t actually synced, how on earth are you supposed to launch a multichannel campaign (let alone report on it)?
We set out to answer that very complicated question, beginning with our collaboration when we (the authors — Karin and Jeff) worked together at Defenders of Wildlife to establish a functioning data sync, among other things. From there, we asked several organizations — large and small — who was doing it right (and how) and who was doing it not-so-right (and why). We asked organizations with large and complex fundraising programs — such as the ASPCA and the Human Rights Campaign — and we talked to smaller operations like the Center for Reproductive Rights. We also chatted with experts at our respective firms. From those conversations, we came up with a formula for success, as well as a checklist of sorts to help ensure you have a seamless and cohesive data-integration process that allows for streamlined donor communication and engagement, and an integrated fundraising program that serves your mission.
To be clear, we don’t mean to imply that any of this is easy, and there may be elements important to your organization that aren’t outlined here. But integrated data systems are critical to enabling constituent-centric communications across channels, which, in turn, is key to your relationship with donors and fundraising results.
People, process, technology
Not surprisingly, this mantra heard in the for-profit world applies to data syncs in the nonprofit space, too (another example of where nonprofits can learn from the for-profit community). Aligning the right people (and the right number — not too many and not too few), establishing and mapping processes (what field goes where), and making the best use of technology (software, hardware, automation, etc.) yield a streamlined, well-functioning enterprise. Makes sense — but how?
1. Establish the business goals for data integration. Before going out and creating anything, think about what data is most important to integrate — and where to store it. We recommend creating experience-based use cases for what data is needed, how frequently and where, as well as determining what the results yield in terms of tangible outcomes. For example, what online activity data do you want to use for offline segmentation or customization of messaging? Conversely, what information from your offline database of record do you need to sync with your online database to customize e-mail messaging (ask string, interest areas, etc.)?
Try to estimate the value that integrated data brings to your program — that might be revenue improvement or staff time savings. Talk to your peers, and read benchmarking reports that measure the value of multichannel donors. The investment in data integration can be significant, and you need to justify your business case.
2. Get executive-level buy-in. This can happen before or after establishing the business goals, but it is important to have before beginning work.
3. Create a working group that focuses on the sync. Depending on your organizational structure, this group should include a knowledgeable member of the offline database team (potentially more than one if there are multiple offline databases), the same for the online database/ECRM and fundraising staff — with emphasis on the heaviest users of the data (likely the direct-response team).
4. Determine which system is your database of record. Which system takes priority over the other — especially if there are changes on both systems? From a practical perspective, you don’t want to have to check multiple databases against the National Change of Address registry.
5. Map the process. Determine which fields align on each system and what the match criteria is (and consider that it may be different from one system to the other). Tip: Keep in mind that just because fields are labeled the same on each system doesn’t mean they contain the same data!
6. Establish a data dictionary to standardize definitions and language between systems.
7. Set the mapping document aside for a few days, and go back with fresh eyes.
8. Determine who needs to provide feedback: development staff for major donors, assuming they aren’t a part of the core group; affiliate leadership if you are syncing affiliate data; your sustainer program manager, etc. Then give them a chance to provide it!
9. Establish a “point zero.” Sync the systems offline before the sync gets turned on in real time.
And here are some other tips from the experts:
- Start with the end in mind. After determining your goals and likely use cases, review your overall data architecture road map — and make sure that a sync fits in. But don’t fall into analysis paralysis — even a quick sync of the basics (donor info, name, address, most recent gift and highest gift, e-mail, database IDs, etc.) creates value.
- Carefully scope the project. Estimate the return (at least at a high level), and the time and costs. And anticipate problems. If your data isn’t integrated correctly, the project is a waste.
- Break down silos! Really this is true in nearly everything we do — but especially here. Remember that no one department “owns” the data. At the end of the day, it is the donors who matter most.
- Once the sync is working, try to break it. Challenge it. Test it. See how it does. Do the business rules hold up? Make sure they do, and then work to improve them. Never assume you are done.
- Expect the unexpected. Data syncs are challenging — and not for the faint of heart!
- Monitor the queue of “kick outs” daily — i.e., records that fall out of the sync. Understand if there is a pattern (or if the sync breaks!), and then work to correct and automate.
- Get expert help. Building a sync isn’t easy. In fact, determining what you’re going to do once the data is synced and planning out what fields to sync aren’t easy, either. Consider getting support from consultants who can help you think about and create the future.
OK, these are a few thoughts to get you off and running! We’d love to hear your thoughts on the steps and tips above — and what else you think is critical to ensuring not only that your data is successfully synced, but also that your charity is able to use the data
[The authors want to acknowledge the time and knowledge shared with us by some stellar nonprofit professionals, including Sarah Birnie, Lindsey Twombly and Alicia Meulensteen. Many thanks to you!]