Top Things to Consider Before Converting Your Nonprofit’s Data into a New System

Top Things to Consider Before Converting Your Nonprofit's Data into a New System

Recently, Laura Bibbo wrote a helpful post on 7 Things to Think About Before You Implement a Fundraising System. Now, here are some things to consider before you move any data into a new system, and a few tips on how to get the conversion process started off right.

Data Mapping

At Heller Consulting, we believe that data mapping is one of the most significant steps in a successful migration. Mapping happens before we begin any other implementation activities. The process involves taking every single field from the old database and mapping it to a field in the new database.

You might be surprised at how many organizations skip detailed mapping, dismissing it as a nitpicky, administrative task. Data mapping is much more than that. It’s your first opportunity to consider how the new system is going to meet your current and future needs, not just replicate processes from the old system. It is a chance to look at your data holistically, and decide what data is really important and how it could be restructured to support both your daily work and long term fundraising goals. Looking at your data holistically also ensures that you are putting it in to the system in a logical and organized manner, which affects if and how you can report on it.

On a more basic level, data mapping sets you up to complete the next steps in your implementation. A data map provides an agreed-upon record of where your data is going to end up. Often users’ main concern is where they are going to find their data in the new system. This part of the process clearly presents and documents a solution to that concern.

Code Structure

A data migration is an excellent opportunity to streamline your financial and demographic codes. Coding is fundamental to a well-organized database, and good codes should reflect your organization’s goals and strategies. Often, to get to the heart of a client’s coding needs we ask questions like, “Who do you consider your main sources of funding?” or “What are your primary fundraising strategies?” Typically, the answers to these questions form the backbone of an effective code structure. Additional questions to ask yourself:

  • Do we have codes that no one knows the meaning of anymore?
  • Do any codes present risk of code confusion (e.g., could one gift easily qualify for more than one campaign or appeal)?

The key here is that your code structure should be something that reflects your goals and allows you to get the reports you need. It should not be something that is dictated by the structure or limitations of your old system.

I had a client whose data was migrated directly to Salesforce.com with exactly the same coding as their old system. Where there wasn’t space to hold the codes (the two systems had dramatically different structures), they heavily customized the database. Less than a year after the conversion, the organization was paralyzed. Getting the simplest reports required massive workarounds that created more and more issues in the database. Our first suggestion for this client? A code cleanup. Their codes were completely dependent on the structure of the old system and made no sense given their current activities and goals. If this client had been through an analysis of their codes before migrating any data, they would have never found themselves in this position.

Storage

Another often overlooked consideration before a data migration is storage. Just because all of your data fit into your old database, does not mean that it is going to fit into your new database. Different systems have different storage capacities and strategies. Often, additional storage is a hidden cost, and you don’t want to get caught having to purchase additional space right in the middle of a migration.

Historical Data

Before you begin a data migration, it’s a good idea to think about what historical data you want to bring into the new system. It’s tempting to think, “It might be nice to know that someday.” But, be honest: Are you ever really going to need that note about a donor’s cat from 1995? Do you really need the contact information of constituents who haven’t donated, volunteered, or responded to an appeal in 15 years? Often, clients say they feel like their database is “messy,” but when we ask for specifics, they can’t really pinpoint why. Cleaning out some of that old, extraneous data can help you save storage and can help diminish that “messy” feeling.

Think It Through

Basically, a conversion is a great time to clean house. It is well worth your time to think holistically about the data you already have, what you want to keep, and how it can better support you in your new system.

Susie Saxten

About Susie Saxten

Susie brings experience in many areas of nonprofit operations -- including fundraising, board development, grant-writing and marketing -- to her work at Heller Consulting. She has a special interest in developing and streamlining systems, and enjoys sharing her knowledge with others by breaking down complex processes into manageable pieces. Most of all, she is passionate about using technology to further the missions of nonprofit organizations. Prior to joining Heller Consulting, Susie worked at UniversalGiving™, a nonprofit that allows people to give to and volunteer with trusted projects around the world. There, she used Salesforce.com™ to maintain the database of donors, generate reports, and implement direct mail strategies. During her tenure, she also developed and documented many new fundraising procedures.

5 comments

  1. Good information and great article Susie. I think the most important statement from your post is “Think it Through…”, which cannot be under-stated. It’s so important to think it through and there are many factors to consider. Here are a few others: Understanding how the fields relate between systems. More specifically – your new system could be an off the shelf system, a new one that is being built from the ground up, or a hybrid of both. With data mapping, deciding on what stays, what goes, what fits, what doesn’t and which fields or tables may drive new development in your new system – are all considerations that must be carefully decided upon. In some situations – similar fields will map easily. In other situations – fields from your current system may exist across different forms and tables in your new system and deciding on how those will work and flow for your staff and caseworkers is another important consideration.

  2. Great points, I would add a reminder to document and take notes all along for historical reference.

  3. Another good reason is data mapping can be saved and reused. Assuming you didn’t bring your entire data to the new system at the migration and later on you find some historical data is still useful, you can easily do import by reusing your saved data mapping!

  4. Another good reason is data mapping can be saved and reused. Assuming you didn’t bring your entire data to the new system at the migration and later on you find some historical data is still useful, you can easily do import by reusing your saved data mapping!

  5. Another good reason is data mapping can be saved and reused. Assuming you didn’t bring your entire data to the new system at the migration and later on you find some historical data is still useful, you can easily do import by reusing your saved data mapping!

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