The Truth About Nonprofit Data Migrations

Kyle Curry

I want to tell you a secret.

Nonprofit tech companies hate talking about nonprofit data migration.

We’ll see blogs about the importance of donor retention or Facebook marketing or everything else we are told is important. Yet database companies hate talking about your data.

If you go to a nonprofit tech company’s website, you won’t find anything of substance about their own data migration policies. When you talk to their sales team, you’ll hear how they are the best at nonprofit data migration — but you’ll get few details on the process or costs.

We’re saying no more to this. We’ve been innovating the nonprofit technology space for years and have quietly and cautiously been building processes that will help you get your data into NeonCRM as easily and accurately as possible. In the coming months, we’re going to roll out tons of resources that will pertain to your data and how to best manage it.

Where to start?

Before I started working at NeonCRM, I was a client. One of the first questions I had for my NeonCRM salesperson was how the data migration would work. I had donor relationships that were years old, so regardless of how “clean” things were I needed to keep that donor data. What options did we have? Luckily I was given clear advice by the NeonCRM team.

We’ve created our data migration processes through trial and error, adjusting options and policies along the way to ensure that you’ll feel confident during the most stress-inducing part of changing software.

Here’s a simple acronym we’ve developed to help explain what we do that no one else is doing — SAAS:

  • Scope: We need to understand the data you have, so we ask to see it before even giving you full costs or a recommendation. We may believe you when you say it’s “simple,” but we really want to take a look first to ensure you get the best service possible. Your data may be simple in practice, but its current format may actually make it a complicated data transfer. What seems simple to an average user may end up being complicated for our import team.
  • Audit: We review what your intended data expectations are and compare that to the data you’ve provided us. For instance, if you tell us that you do a lot of events and peer-to-peer campaigns but your Excel spreadsheets don’t include that data, we may ask for more information.
  • Analyze: We’ll quickly review and analyze your data after the audit. Here’s the reality — the number of donors, donations, event registrations, memberships, etc. that you have has very little impact on the work we need to do. Quantity doesn’t equal quality, and we’re looking more at how your data is structured and how that will work best in NeonCRM. Yes, an import of 500 people is different than import of 500,000, but less than you imagine. They all receive the same level of attention and service from our import team.
  • Strategize: We’re honest about your data, and we’ll give a straightforward answer on what import strategy is best for you. That includes a timeline for a custom import via our team, or any best practices and expert advice you’ll need to do a self-import. We know that budgets are tight, and timelines need to be met. Our team will work with you to create the easiest solution, without sacrificing the integrity of your data.

Pulling the data out

Has this statement ever crossed your mind when talking about your donor data?

“We’ve been doing things this way since I started the job, but before I did it every other staff member entered things in a different way.”

It’s understandable given the turnover rates in nonprofits, but that doesn’t make you or me sleep better at night. So what are some best practices on getting ready for your data migration?

  1. Learn how to pull reports out of your current software (or spreadsheet). Save files into what is called a CSV format.
  2. If your original data had ID numbers, ensure you put those in all files (or sheets of data). A person is a unique individual, but they’re also an ID when a computer looks at it. We want that. The computer won’t look at a first and last name as unique, but an ID will be unique to each person. You could have two people in your current system with the same name, but IDs should never be repeated.
  3. Show us the data you want to see. Sample files are concerning because we don’t know the full breadth of the data. If you give us sample data of a few rows, we may not see that we will need to work on your names because Individual and Organization Names are in the same column. Or that a good portion of your donations lack dates. By giving us the full data set in the beginning, we can be upfront about any potential difficulties you may encounter in the import process. It also allows us to quote the data appropriately, if we only see a sample of data, you run the risk that we will have to change the estimate because the entire data set is not what we expected. Just give us everything you expect to see from day one.

Understanding workload

Are you stressed about the cost of a migration AND thinking you will lose data in the process? We are too. I talked with the head of our Professional Services Team, Casey Wittekind, and she said, “The hardest transitions to Neon are people who do not understand their data, who don’t take the time to import their data correctly. These are the clients we want to help, but if you don’t take your data seriously, we are limited in what we can do.”

The unfortunate reality is that a lot of nonprofit tech companies really hate this part of the sales process. Instead, they’ll rush you through the process and paint a rosy picture without much detail on your organization’s data plan. They want to wow you with pretty reports and metrics and everything that is vitally dependent upon solid and accurate data. Yet ask them about data migration and they clam up.

“Oh, we know that database very well. We have a standard way to do it. Here’s a proposal, we have everything covered. Sign this week?”

Wrong. When it comes to data migration, you should be offered several detailed options. We’ve been in your shoes, which is why we’ve put so much work into developing those options at NeonCRM.

While every export from a database may follow a similar pattern, individual datasets are never limited to that pattern. You may have uniquely used custom fields, salutations, or even a specific transaction type that you’ll need to get into your new system. By talking directly to the Neon team about your data column by column, we can help you account for the unique nature of your data.

Every situation is absolutely unique, but we’ve identified 4 primary import strategies and developed services around each.

Nonprofit Data Migration Strategies at Neon

Standard Import: This is best for very simple data — like lists with Organization Name or First Name, Last Name, and Email. We’ve built an easy to use self-import tool with standardized templates for the basics everyone needs. But we still want to talk to you about how to best utilize NeonCRM moving forward!

  • Best for: Constant Contact, MailChimp, and PayPal users.

Assisted Self-Import: We know that data imports can freak people out, so we’re here to help — without breaking the budget. As mentioned above, NeonCRM has a self-import utility and it actually does more than just names. We can import Donations, Memberships, and Events — IF the data is straight forward enough.

  • Best for: eTapestry, DonorPerfect, Giftworks, Kindful, Wild Apricot, and QuickBooks users.

Custom Import: You have multiple databases (e.g. something for donations, events, volunteers, etc.) and need to combine them. Or you’re using a database that doesn’t easily export the data. We have dedicated staff just for this type of import. We just need to know what we’re working with and we’ll provide an itemized and detailed project outline in your proposal.

  • Best for: Raiser’s Edge, DonorPerfect, Luminate, iMIS, Salesforce, Salsa Labs, and CiviCRM users.

Full Service: We’ve worked with thousands of nonprofits, so we know that sometimes you just can’t deal with the mechanics of the migration itself. Databases like Raiser’s Edge can literally take several minutes to create an export file while you stare at the screen. We’ve created special red carpet services for select databases that we’re proud to offer.

  • Blackbaud: Unfortunately this venture capital backed company has created software that is difficult to navigate and pull data from. While eTapestry is pretty simple, offerings like Raiser’s Edge and Altru are very difficult to get everything accurately. If you don’t have a data guru, we have you covered and have partnered with Nonprofit Garden to take this off your hands. They can come on-site and pull the data for you in a strategic way. Then we’ll take it from there.
  • CiviCRM: Open source doesn’t always mean easy. This software can be very difficult to engage, which is why we’re proud to offer a full data export/import package by working with our friends at Back Office Thinking. They know CiviCRM better than anyone. They do the extraction, clean it up for us, and then we take it from there.
  • Salesforce: Free doesn’t always mean free. We have actually hired some Salesforce experts to assist in pulling the data out that system and into NeonCRM. The allure of a free database is pretty great, but it doesn’t work for everyone. If you are one of those folks, we can help make your transition to Neon as seamless and affordable as possible.

Why is this important?

The unfortunate reality is that most nonprofits lose donors. Donor retention is at an all-time low and a huge factor is a lack of accurate data tracking in donor databases. We have found over 10 years that most nonprofits have a subpar experience with their data migration but want to just get to using the software so they can get back to growing their mission.

The all important mantra is: “garbage in, garbage out.” That means that if you have terrible data, then you can’t manage your relationships. We are thrilled to offer all of these services as well as shine a light on the dirty little secret of nonprofit tech — they don’t like talking about it. Here at Neon, we are looking forward to creating data-driven change with you.

Ready to make your move? Talk to our Professional Services team.

Showing 2 comments
  • qbrecovery

    perfect blogs for data migrations talks

  • Toudjidoum

    Whether I understood you about this above document you have to establish data bank for any Nonprofit organization like ours.
    Data bank is an important tool for organization like donors.
    Therefore that will enable us to get information that we need shortly as much as our partners.
    And so we are there to benefit with our technologic experience in order to boost our business.
    Truly thanks.

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