May 21, 2014

Beyond the Shuffle: Data Accessibility in the Cloud

Not so long ago, sending email attachments with files names like Donor list_V2, Donor list_KK_NM, Donor list_FINAL_REALLY was not at all uncommon. Perhaps you still see this at your organization (no shame in that)! Over the years, we’ve seen that the nonprofit world has particular difficulty with data accessibility. With limited human resources, the first priority of any nonprofit is (and should be) serving your mission, not shuffling data around.

However, keeping good data and serving your missions should not be mutually exclusive. Without easily accessible data, you can’t build reports for your board or measure how much progress your organization is making.

In her recent post on “How nonprofits can improve data accessibility through the cloud,” our consultant Ashley Bochiechio discussed three scenarios that we often come across:

  • Data is still in the dark ages: Most extremely (but you’d be surprised how many organizations are still partially in this category), some businesses are still dependent on paper records. This data may as well not even exist, and there’s nowhere to go but up.
  • Data is inconsistent: Other businesses have one spreadsheet that they are completely dependent upon for all financial data. Each year, their business process changes a bit, so more columns are added, meaning there’s no consistency as process and personnel change. It’s gotten so bad that searching for relevant info on one single business isn’t even possible, because it’s been spelled and tracked differently over the years.
  • Data is formatted poorly: Still other businesses use different formats for tracking data—sometimes it’s in a spreadsheet, sometimes Word, sometimes a Google doc, sometimes an uneditable PDF. Having multiple formats means it’s impossible to search or compile quickly into a report.

Of course, not even the best cloud-based CRM can resolve all of these problems, but cloud-based systems can help you make enormous leaps toward data accessibility and centralization.

The key to migrating to the cloud is that you don’t (and shouldn’t) apply the exact same business process you used when you operated on paper and spreadsheets. You have to think differently. Here are some examples of shifts when moving to a cloud-based CRM like Salesforce:

  • Automated naming conventions: You’ll hear a lot that it is critical to establish naming conventions for your record types and fields, but the beauty of a smart CRM is that you can put some automation in place around naming conventions, user lookups, and pre-populated picklist options.
  • Anywhere access: at Idealist Consulting, we work entirely in cloud-based systems. There are undeniably many benefits of a face-to-face team (going to seminars with monks would be pretty weaksauce remotely), but working in systems like Salesforce and other cloud-based tools means that we can work just as expediently from our home computers. No VPN or specific time zone is required. Unifying your organization to work out of one (or just a couple) central locations means that, with the proper permissions, anyone can access cross-departmental report data.
  • More mobile possibilities: Many cloud-based tools are ahead of the curve for mobile capabilities. If you use Salesforce, you have undoubtedly been bombarded with ads for Salesforce1 for the past six months, and for good reason: it is quickly making it possible for Salesforce admins to work more efficiently by being able to update donor records or manage events through mobile devices. 

In summary, as you consider your nonprofit’s strategy over the next few years, you will likely find that the vast majority of technological solutions are now cloud-based, and your data accessibility will increase profoundly once you have your records in one centralized location. So leave those _V2 files names behind and embrace the new world of on-demand reporting and communication.

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Kirsten Kippen
Interested in CRM/Salesforce, Marketing, Writing, Alaska, Running. Not necessarily in that order.
Tags: Cloud, salesforce