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Constituent Data Management Trends

There is no doubt that correctly managing data is the key to success in the non-profit world. Yet, that is often easier said then done, non-profits have an overwhelming amount of data. The data encompasses the entire organization from tracking donors and gifts, to coordinating volunteers and events. Often non-profits deal with the myriad of data by running multiple databases, one for each facet of the organization. Unfortunately, while the databases work fine for holding the information, most are stand-alone. In addition, in order for databases to be useful they require constant update.

As non-profits explore new methods of collecting data such as social media and other online sources, the influx of data increases which only makes it harder to keep the databases updated. According to Lisa Colton of Darim, “Your data is thrown in too many directions to be useful” and the result is, “Many organizations are using multiple, closed systems, which results in inefficiencies at best (for example entering a new member in 4 places), and missed opportunities and errors more often“. With non-profits reacting to the economic downturn by reducing staff, the result is less people to enter the data. This leads to missed information and missed opportunities.

Cathy Folkes from Adcieo sums it up best; she says, “We live in an instant gratification society. Cathy explains, “If someone donates to your organization, whether it is large or small, you need to respond immediately and the response must be personal“. Nothing turns a longtime donor off faster then a generic “Dear Participant” letter received a month after the event. Cathy believes integration will prevent non-profits from missing key opportunities to build relationships.

Integrated systems are also beneficial because non-profits often experience a high turnover. A constituent relationship management system provides a central system that everyone knows how to access. This eliminates the situation of “only John Smith knows how to do that”. Cathy also indicates that non-profits find themselves collecting data but once they have the data they don’t know what to do with it. A CRM helps them create a process for sorting the information. The non-profit can then focus on building long-term relationships with the donors. New software systems like Common Ground by Convio offer a Constituent Relationship Management system that consolidates everything into one package. Every database for every aspect of the organization including volunteers, donors and upcoming fundraising events is in one location accessible to anyone within the organization with proper access.

Another trend highlighted by John Kenyon, a Nonprofit Technology Educator & Strategist, is the “integration of CRM with the Content Management Systems”. He goes on to explain that the two were “Previously two different tools one containing a donor & stakeholder data and one (CMS) website management tools. Integration means that data gathered from the website can be put/used in database in real time“. A good example explains John is “maintaining a "donor wall" on the website that shows who has made a donation. Another example is a list of event registrants/attendees on the website and giving members access to the site to update their records and renew memberships, etc“.

In years past, non-profits shied away from large “systems” because of many factors including cost, implementation and upkeep. Software vendors are beginning to realize that “one size” doesn’t fit all and in turn are offering any size non-profit exactly what they need. Some vendors are even offering true customization. For example, CiviCRM is a free and open source CRM. Fully web-based it integrates with Drupal and Joomla making it infinitely customizable. CiviCRM contains everything a standard CRM does like online fundraising, donor management, volunteer management and event management. All the customization allows the non-profits to generate truly useful reports and synchronize with other applications like Google Apps (calendar), Microsoft Outlook

Many non-profit organizations trending towards cloud computing. First, it means less cost, as there is no investment in servers and no onsite technical staff; instead, the data is in a data center. Second, the date is instantly accessible via the website, which allows the non-profit staff more flexibility. One example of this is for non-profits. offers a CRM solution where the data in one central location, just not onsite. can help nonprofits keep track of all the constituents they work with, and all the work they do with them. The program does everything the non-profit needs like tracking donations, grants, memberships and volunteering and all the programs. It also has tracking features like real-time reporting and an analytics engine to help target donors.

All the trends, integration, open sourcing and cloud computing allow the non-profits to continually expand their data management capabilities. Therefore, the non-profits can focus on building relationships with data, not on just the data.
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