To approach the topic of data health at nonprofits, I like to start by talking about something that isn’t data (or at least doesn’t seem like it is). Imagine you’re hosting a big offline event, like your organization’s annual fundraiser.
It’s likely your big fundraising event includes long-time donors and folks who may donate for the time at the event, board members and other community leaders, your staff and volunteers, and lots of supporters. This may be the first event for some people and for others, an annual gathering not to be missed. It feels great to have so many people important to your organization gathered in one big room!
Maybe you have a silent auction running in the foyer where donors can drop in offers throughout the night; board members and your leadership staff circulating the room to start conversations and move donors to a verbal commitment; and then, the critical fundraising peer pressure round of the paddle raise. So much going on under one roof!
Now, imagine that the lights went out (this isn’t about disaster preparedness, so let’s imagine that everyone is safe, and everything is still okay!). Without access to all those handwritten notes there’s no way to manage or follow through on the silent auction. Without relying on the memory of individual board members, there’s no way to quickly confirm pledged donations. Without seeing the paddle numbers, there’s no way to see who wants to donate and at which level. Plus, most of the folks in the room wouldn’t be inspired to make a donation without the personal connections, conversations, and experience of the event.
So where does that leave us? The annual fundraiser probably saw the lowest results in your organization’s history (unless your ED successfully spun it into a metaphor about donating to keep the lights on!). The actions, conversations, and even feelings that occur in that room are data points—but they need to be seen. Your digital data is the same. Here are a couple of ideas I hope you’ll remember as you read Untapped Potential: The Case for Data Health, a new report from the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact.
Having clean, healthy data allows you to easily have access to all of the information that you need to make decisions, budget, plan, and implement your programs, fundraising campaigns, and events. No relying on memory or keeping information about a donor with a single staff member (or in a spreadsheet stored on their laptop alone). Healthy data ecosystems are shared across the organization so that all staff can contribute and access the data, ensuring that a constituent’s information is as dynamic and realistic as it can be.
On the other side, maintaining healthy data also means you can create a dynamic experience for your community, regardless of their history with your organization or the opportunities that are right for them. The digital version of that annual event is going on throughout the year on your website—people donating for the first time; signing onto petitions or taking action with you; joining your major campaigns; and sharing your content with their friends. Your email appeals can be segmented and dynamic to ensure folks get the right messages at the right time.
Ultimately, data health means mission health.