Top 10 Tough Donor Data Migration Decisions

Top 10 Tough Donor Data Migration Decisions

If you’ve migrated donor data from one CRM to another, no doubt you have dealt with a lot of difficult decisions. In fact, our donor data migration clients often express surprise at the number of decisions they have to make. In this post, we discuss our list of Top 10 Tough Donor Data Migration Decisions.

By way of qualification, our intent with this article is to be CRM agnostic. We aren’t advocating one software platform over another. Keep in mind, however, that all CRMs and donor databases are different – each has its own database structure, definitions of key terms, and attributes for handling certain data types. For example, one system may prefer that husband and wife are created as a joint account, while another may prefer that the two are individual donor accounts that are linked.

We hope this provides guidance that will help you plan all aspects of your next data migration.

The list

Decision 1: Must we have data governance policies before we migrate?

Yes. Data governance represents ‘rules of the road’ for your donor database. Good data governance addresses data quality issues ranging from how you control your data input processes to questions such as ‘How long will you store old records?’ or ‘How many instances of old addresses will you save?’ It’s a critical part of any data management plan. If you don’t have a basic set of data governance decisions addressed before you start your data migration, you will be forced to make those decisions as you work through the process. Better to get this out of the way first. For more help, see this post.

D2: Do I use the CRM vendor’s import tools?

Yes. But the import tool needs to be well-tested. Unfortunately, based on our experience, the quality of these tools varies. The less work that you can complete through the import tool, the more work you will have to address alternatively. For a cloud-based and proprietary CRM databases, your options are limited. You either work with the import tool, you enter data sets manually, or you contract with the vendor to do some or all of the work for you. The vendor services can be more expensive than, say, an independent consultant. The vendor, however, can usually access the database directly to complete data migration work that the importer ‘stubbornly’ won’t process 100%. For Open Source and custom databases, you can usually get directly to the database if needed. As a general rule of thumb, though, use the importers. You can find a lot of help via Google searches.

D3: What do I do about data that won’t import?

Every data migration we’ve worked on ends up with data that can’t be imported. Usually the process of running import tests leads to additional iterations on the proposed data structure in the new CRM as you wrestle with limitations of the data extracted from the old CRM. Remember: your new CRM is your future, so it is more important that the new database meets your future fundraising needs, than it supports 100% of your legacy data. For data that you ‘retire’, export it into a usable format, like an Access database for Excel spreadsheet, so you can refer to it later if needed.

D4: How many years of donor data do I migrate?

This is a great question and a tough decision. The data hoarder in all of us wants to keep data “just in case” we need it, or to run those cool reports that show 10 years of trends. Stop and ask yourself this: when was the last time you went into your CRM and studied donors or gifts older than three years? The answer is probably “I can’t remember”. There’s your answer. To the comments in the question above, archive that retired data. It’s your piece of mind. And if you just can’t bring yourself to purge data from the three year mark, draw a hard line at five.

D5: What do I do about lapsed donors?

At the risk of answering a question with a question, when was the last time you reached out specifically to lapsed donors – donors who have not given in the past two years? If you haven’t, then I recommend the following. Segment your lapsed donors and plan an outreach strategy. Allow two communications over the next two months. Create all new messaging inviting their interest in your mission – and I am stressing “new”, because whatever messaging they have been receiving isn’t working. Anybody responding to this campaign goes into your new CRM. Anybody who doesn’t stays in the archive.

D6: We have a couple of ad hoc text fields with a lot of donor history notes – what do we do about them?

Text fields are notorious in older CRMs and Access databases. With an insufficient data structure to support a growing charity, the easy short-cut to data management was to store more information in an ad hoc field – birth dates, family data, alma mater, notes from a meeting, etc. First, export this data into a spreadsheet and review it. Do you in fact have meaningful data? If so, import it into the new CRM, into a notes or text field. Once your data migration is completed, then go back to this ad hoc data and analyze it. In some cases, you have unmanageable garbage, but you can only realize it once you’ve gone through the discipline of a thorough data migration. In some cases, though, you have useful information that needs to be re-populated into your CRM. Parse and import the data into two or more new fields in your CRM database. You will need a parsing tool – did you know that you can do simple parsing using Microsoft Excel?

D7: We chose a CRM, we are two months into our data migration project, and we are just now figuring out that some data fields won’t translate to the CRM. What do we do now?

Don’t panic. This is not uncommon. This situation usually occurs after you’ve completed the data map from the old to new CRM database, and initial testing is underway. The ah-ha occurs when you realize that some fields in the new CRM aren’t interpreting data the same way that you expected they would. What now? You stop and review your map again. Make a list of all fields that aren’t readily translating to the new. Can you remap to another field? Do you need to create a new custom field in the database? Is the real issue that the old database is suffering from bad data management practices that the new system won’t tolerate? As we mentioned before, you new CRM represents your fundraising future. Worst case, you archive the troublesome data and revisit it later. Based on our experience, if you can’t figure a way for the new CRM to accommodate the data, you probably don’t need that old data but are trying to hang onto it for the wrong reasons. Still not satisfied that we’ve solved your problem here? Contact us so we can help figure this out.

D8: We’ve decided that we want to bring all of our donor data over to the new CRM, then we’ll decide later if we need it all. Is that okay?

No! A data migration is not an exercise in maintaining bad data practices. The notion that you’ll decide later if you need it all is just postponing the most important decision that you need to make. A data migration is an opportunity to re-think your data – to prioritize, clean, and prepare it for future fundraising and communication campaigns. If you are struggling with this, find a data consultant that can help you.

D9: Once the data migration is completed, who is responsible for data quality – the tech team? the fundraising team? marketing?

That depends on your organization’s structure. The important point is that you need to assign responsibility for data quality to someone. Data management in every organization needs to have a plan and a budget. Your fundraising success depends on it.

D10: Do I need a database consultant to complete my donor data migration project?

No … but we are available if you would like our help! 🙂  Seriously, what any organization needs is a resource(s) dedicated to completing the data migration and engaging leadership in the tough decisions. The reasons that many nonprofits look for outside help with donor data migration decisions are many. Data science is not a part of a database administrator’s skill set. Existing staff they simply doesn’t have the time. Data quality has been ignored long enough that a fresh set of eyes and ears will really help.

For more information about donor data migration, data management, and data planning, please contact us.

Want more on this topic? Have questions? Come join our upcoming webinar held jointly with Bloomerang on Thursday August 21 from 1-2PM EST  Register Today


About Gary Carr

Gary is the founder and president of Third Sector Labs. With more than 20 years of experience delivering software and data solutions to a wide variety of clients, Gary turned his attention to the overwhelming problem of data. Third Sector Labs is committed to making sense of data for the nonprofit industry.

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