You’re probably tired of hearing about the importance of data integration. However, the truth is that using data properly is critical to continued fundraising growth. Full stop.

Every nonprofit is sitting atop a mountain of data about donors, but far too few fundraisers are maximizing the benefits of this information. Therefore, the real question is this: Are you using your data effectively?

According to a recent data report by the Nonprofit Hub and EveryAction, 76% of nonprofit professionals are not satisfied with their data. And 60% do not use data to make decisions.

That’s because several roadblocks stand in the way, and you might not even see them.

The biggest challenge is data integration. This buzzword gets thrown around a lot, but it simply means taking all your data sources and stitching them together into one holistic view.

Think of it like a photograph. You need the full picture to understand the context. If you remove the Eiffel Tower from the background in Photoshop, it’s just a generic selfie instead of a treasured memory of your vacation in Paris.

Let’s look at where the problems with data often begin, why data integration is so important and the steps you can take to understand your complete picture.

How we got here

Nonprofit managers relied for decades on direct mail and telemarketing as the engine of the organization’s direct-response fundraising. As a result, they have meticulous files of donors, addresses, frequency of mailing and more.

Then came websites and email marketing, providing fresh new ways to engage constituents and donors digitally. Presto – along came a lot more data.

Many more channels have been added as well, including targeted digital ads, social media, Google Ad Grants, peer-to-peer, and DIY where donors make their own fundraising pages for charities they support.

Each of these marketing channels potentially came with a different vendor, a different department, a different leader and a different set of rules and processes. This has created data siloes.

In the rush to try out these new tactics, a lot of fundraisers fail to look at the big picture of how they track and collect data in each of these channels. Before they realize it, they’re years down the road with a database of offline donors and possibly several files for digital donors, as well as prospects.

What’s the problem?

When you step out of the siloes for a complete picture, you see a messy approach to fundraising.

Today’s donors have an inconsistent experience if nonprofits don’t have a consistent multichannel strategy. They might see mixed messaging across channels or too many requests for donations hitting them from all sides.

For example, you might have a situation where current donors who give more than $25 annually receive direct mail appeals, but all donors (current and lapsed) with an email address receive email campaigns and invitations to events.

The other problem that siloed data creates is viewing donors as transactions. This leads to problems with attribution, and ultimately a poor donor experience.

If someone gives by direct mail, they get placed into that database. If someone gives through a social media ad campaign, they get placed into a different database.

What if that direct mail donor was moved by your emails that tell the story of the help you’re providing? When they receive their year-end direct mail appeal, they choose to give in that channel, but they were inspired online.

If you’re viewing this as a siloed transaction, the email campaign would be considered a failure. The donor might be removed from that database, because the records show they did not give by email.

Over time, this donor stops receiving email, feels less connected to your organization, and the next year-end appeal ends up in the recycling bin.

You just lost a donor.

Why data integration matters

The previous example illustrates clearly why we can no longer look at data in siloes. Fundraisers need to look beyond the transaction. You must view fundraising from the donor’s perspective and create an optimized donor journey.

This can be accomplished through data integration. With the right data, you can create the right strategy.

Picture this: You can see a group of donors who haven’t given in any channel during this fiscal year, and they’re about to be considered lapsed. You’re able to target them with a digital ad, reminding them of your organization’s great work. You then send out a retention email to this segmented group, and you receive donations from donors who were at risk of lapsing.

You just saved a group of donors from leaving, accomplishing this through a holistic view of them.

Without data integration, you might send a retention email to donors who haven’t recently donated online. But what if they gave via direct mail? When they open the email, they’ll think, “I just gave you money, and you don’t even know it.”

You just lost a donor.

Today’s donors simply don’t operate in one channel and neither should nonprofit organizations.

With an integrated database, you can see the donor’s journey in all channels from early engagement to conversion to retention. You can segment donors and tailor the right message at the right time along this journey.

Here’s another example: You see a group of donors who have given three times this year by direct mail. They’ve also opened your emails and visited your website.

They might be good candidates for monthly giving. You can create a personalized message specifically for this group to suggest your monthly giving program.

This is only possible because you were able to view their transactions and their engagements across all channels.

Putting it all together

It starts with a change in mindset as an organization. Break through the siloes and get everyone moving in the same direction.

One way to get the ball rolling is by creating consistent business rules for all your channels.

If you don’t send mail to donors who gave less than $25, perhaps you engage them with content and offers through email or digital ads. If donors who give $1,000 or more are considered mid-level, and therefore receive much more personalized experiences, make sure they are treated equally well in all channels.

This seems simple, and it often is simple. But it does require intentional effort and strategic planning to make it happen.

Sit down and determine where all your data is located and what data you are (and should be) collecting in each channel. Ensure that tracking is set up appropriately in all areas to ensure complete and accurate analysis.

Define the business rules and processes you will use to match donors across environments. And, define how frequently you will match across environments and where the results will be retained.

With the limitations of siloes removed, you can confidently view donors across the core principles of fundraising: acquisition, retention and stewardship.

Next, you can use your data, both transactional and engagement, to fuel your growth strategy.

You can create personalized messaging to reach them more effectively once your rules are established and your donors are understood more clearly. Your story and mission should remain consistent across channels, but you can use each one in different ways to tell that story.

A comprehensive view of your data might seem daunting, but it ensures that you meet each donor’s needs with the right message at the right time.

It’s said that every picture tells a story. Perhaps it time you found out what story your data is telling about your fundraising.