With the advent of readily available APIs, more and more systems are "talking" to each other these days. However, connecting the systems that you use each day can be a scary idea.
In this article, we'll offer tips for approaching system integration and how nonprofits can do even more good with technology.
Why is system integration important?
No matter what data it contains, an isolated application ultimately decreases in value. System integration helps nonprofits recapture this value and do more with less – especially when funding is results-driven. Linking applications together reduces time spent on duplicate data entry and minimizes the chances of clerical errors.
Advantages go well beyond the reduction of administrative burdens. Integration can also help streamline workflows and can deliver more meaningful reports for grants or donors engagement. For example, by allowing volunteer and donor databases to communicate, nonprofits automatically multiply their fundraising potential and have access to a more global view of their supporters.
Does integration makes sense for my organization?
If fractured data is hurting your organization (instead of helping it), then system integration might add value. Here are a few scenarios to consider:
- Are your donors annoyed? If they are getting mail with their names misspelled, calls when they prefer email, or fundraising appeals addressed to a deceased spouse, this can tarnish your reputation and decrease your donation stream.
- Do you see the whole picture? If you can’t easily identify trends and patterns because your data is too scattered among different applications, then you are missing out on important information. This data could drive changes in procedures, marketing, fundraising, and more.
- Do departments mistrust each other’s data? If each department is using a different database for the same individuals, who really has the correct information?
Do any of these challenges sound familiar? If so, it’s time to consider an integration strategy.
How do I prepare for an integration launch?
- Establish that your tools can be connected. Most vendors list out their integration partners on a webpage. Start by exploring tools that integrate with one another. Cloud-based applications are often open to integration.
- Define what you want to accomplish. What problems do you wish to resolve? What benefits do you want to achieve? These questions will guide you and help you define exactly what you require a system integration to do.
- Communicate with staff and stakeholders. Be sure to make clear why you have opted for integration and how it will benefit your organization. This will be critical to your project’s success.
- Ask for information about the integration. Be sure that it meets the needs you outlined, and then dig deeper. You’ll want to find out how long the integration has been in use and ascertain if it is still in beta testing. When talking with the vendor, request case studies or references of satisfied customers so you can do your own research into it.
- Consider hiring a consultant who has successfully lead these types of transitions. An experienced integration consultant can help relieve the stress of integration and serve as a point person for your questions.
- Don’t be afraid to provide feedback to the vendor. If you’re experiencing an issue with the integration, the vendor would probably like to know about it. Don’t be shy.
Your data sets are just like your employees: when they communicate and work together as a team, you get the best results. From expediting internal processes to creating better marketing and fundraising approaches, software integration brings together important data that will synergistically further your nonprofit’s mission.
The following is a guest post by VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management software application that offers online event registration, email and SMS (text) messaging, report generation, and much more. This is part of our ongoing VolunteerCorner series – focusing on what you need to know about volunteering for nonprofit.