No donor data migration from an old CRM to new is easy. If you are a veteran of this experience, no doubt you have dealt with a lot of difficult decisions. Our donor data migration clients often tell us they are surprised at how many decisions they had to make along the way.
If you are planning your donor data migration, hopefully we can help. Here are seven challenging decisions that we are sure you will face in any donor data migration project.
Decision 1: Must we have data governance policies before we migrate?
Yes. Data governance defines both the quality of data you intend to maintain and your organization’s commitment to that maintenance effort. 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?’ If you don’t have a basic set of data governance decisions addressed before you start any 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.
Decision 2: 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, you work with the import tool, enter data sets manually, or contract with the vendor to do some or all of the work for you. While the vendor services can be more expensive than, say, an independent consultant, the vendor can usually access the database directly to complete data migration work that the importer ‘stubbornly’ may not process 100%. For Open Source and custom databases, you can often 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.
Decision 3: 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. As you prepare your data map from old to new, you will identify limitations of the old CRM database … which also validates your decision to migrate. 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.
Decision 4: 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. As mentioned above, archive that retired data. It’s your piece of mind.
Decision 5: 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 with a targeted message 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 or three communications – not just fundraising solicitations – over the next few 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.
Decision 6: 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?
Decision 7: 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?
This is a bit of a spin on Decision 3. 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. In other words, your data mapping isn’t exactly correct. 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.
7 Decisions Nonprofits Will Face During Donor Data Migration