Integrate, Import or Leave it Out? Strategies and Tactics for System Administrators

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Organizations are often faced with questions about integrating disparate systems – but how can they take a strategic approach to understanding the how and why (or why not?) of integrating data? Furthermore sometimes a tool will have a so-called “integration” but the data doesn’t end up in a useful place in your CRM.

Before we can decide to use an off-the-shelf integration, custom-build our own, use a “middle” tool, or import the data – we must ask ourselves the big questions!

Four Key Questions an Organization must Ask itself to Think Strategically about Data Integrations:

  1. How will this data be used in 3 years?

Often I’ll work with an organization that will insist that five years of open rates be brought in from a legacy mass email platform, or integrated from its new tool. But next month, will you really care if a lapsed donor opened your email five years ago? If the answer is no (and it likely is) leave it out. Keep the house uncluttered and focus on the data or trends that are important.

  1. How does this intersect with existing data?

I recently worked with a nonprofit that was committed to an advocacy tool that didn’t have an integration to their CRM. They didn’t want or need to bring in every click and open (see #1 above) but they wanted to bring in key actions around donations and petition signings. The intersection point was the “Interests” that they were tracking as contact tags for segmented outreach and communications. When a constituent took action or donated, they took the interest tag from the web page and mapped it to the interests on the contact record.

  1. Where do I want my data to live?

At the heart of this question is a secondary one – how will you use this data? Oftentimes nonprofits struggle with data that lives in disparate objects, despite existing in the same platform. Thoughtful platform architecture and design can help – but if your tool has an existing integration you may need to live with what you get – and adjust the data through formulas, process builder, or code. An example is wealth screening software – typically these tools will map to a custom object attached to a contact record – when development directors want summary data to live right on the contact – to make it easier to add those contacts to campaigns or run summary wealth info against existing donor opportunities.

  1. What’s my database of record?

The allure of a two-way integration doesn’t always last. What if someone updates their email address in your advocacy tool (i.e. where they want to get their “junk”) and that overwrites your personal gmail address for that donor? Or an integration breaks, and it’s impossible to tell if the last updates you made to one system made it into the other? Most nonprofits find that it’s best to have one database of record – and have a one-way integration, or one-way corresponding import with the other system.

So now that we’ve asked ourselves the big why, how to we decide next steps?

Integrate:

Integrate involves the automated transfer of data from one system to another (or, in rare cases, bi-directional transfer). Many off-the-shelf tools have integrations to CRM – like donor software, mass email tools, event apps. Yet every integration is not equal – know where the data will end up, and how you can work around that if it’s not where you want it to be.

Tools you can Use:

Import:

Importing data is key when you’re willing to run a business process in a third party tool (gala event management, project management, etc.) but you want to bring in key data. Typically for an import process you don’t want to bring in everything, just the data that might overlap. For example, from a gala management tool I might bring in contact data and donation details, but leave out table assignment number and food choice.

Tools you can Use:

Leave it Out?

I love to have all my ducks in a row, but sometimes it just makes sense to keep the clutter separate. Could I integrate my slack feed into my Salesforce? Yes, but it would likely make both unwieldy. Unless there’s a reason why (and often that involves a pain point), wait. If there’s a reason to import or integrate later the need will be clear.

 

 

Megan Himan has over fifteen years experience in the nonprofit sector and over ten years working on the force.com platform. She has a unique combination of deep technical skills paired with an ability to strategically convene groups, coach executives and leadership through transitions, and execute on project deliverables. She is Founder & Principal of BrightStep Partners - solutions with strategy for nonprofit success.

Posted in Implementation Success
3 comments on “Integrate, Import or Leave it Out? Strategies and Tactics for System Administrators
  1. […] you are technical, you may be tempted to build a custom Stripe integration, or integrate with your favorite marketing tool. Don’t. Without dedicated staff on board to manage this […]

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  2. […] The first question you should ask is – do I need it to integrate, and why? As data folks we never like data silos, but there can be reasons when a standalone tool that rocks the need might make sense, or a tool with a custom integration or import process. Read: Integrate, Import, or Leave it out. […]

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  3. […] the big why questions before evaluating the integration specifics of any tool (read Integrate, Import or Leave it Out) and start percolating on what makes sense for your […]

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