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Is Your Data at a Middle School Dance?

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Over the last 10 years the web and our personal identifiable data has grown up. It has gone from an awkward middle school dance -- boys on one side girls the other. To a wedding crasher style dance party where friends, family and work all grind up on the dance floor.

There is a new landscape for not-for-profits (NFPs) to leverage. The opportunity to hyper personalize communication and accurately track our members and their impact is here. So what is holding us back?

Silos.
By Valerie Everett
Photo by Valerie Everett

Silos suck... (except on farms -- then they're useful). A silo is a large cylinder designed to insulate its contents. Silos in NFP organizations keep departments insulated and reduce communication. These physical or conceptual silos hurt collaboration and can create redundancies in an organization.

Data silos can also create problems. When personal identifiable data (PID) is kept in different buckets it's harder to manage, difficult to analyze, and reduces the ability to target communications to users. A common example of this is when mailing addresses and emails are kept in separate systems. Going forward it will be more important to also connect your user's social addresses (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) with this information. Silos are what keep the boys and girls apart at the middle school dance party (school chaperones might contribute too).

NFPs are resourceful and are great at finding solutions given the available tools. We use CRMs, SQL databases, MS Access, Salesforce, Outlook, Excel, paper, post-its, that server gathering dust in the corner, etc... Not all of these solutions scale, and many don't lead to better relationships over time.

Solutions
The NFPs that prize PID and reduce the silos between tech and marketing stand to benefit the most. An org that owns its data and manages it correctly owns its distribution channels. If LIVESTRONG had been able to capture everyone who wore their bracelets they'd have the largest cancer supporter database in the world.

When you gain me as a fan on Facebook I receive periodic updates and my friends will see when I interact with your page. Joining your LinkedIn group adds your organization to my professional profile, and allows easier messaging. Collect my cell number and there is a 90 percent chance I open your text message. My email gives you 10 to 15 percent open rate. Grab my mailing address and you can send more locally focused messaging (or send me junk mail). Every piece of my data offers another avenue of communication and clues to what I care about.

Email is just the beginning of PID, it is the baseline. NFPs must raise the importance and priority of collecting and synching PID. Fortune 500 companies and political campaigns spend gazillions on capturing and synching your info because it leads to more profit.

Within 10 minutes of plugging it in, my Droid X had synched up my personal, work, social, and family networks. The tech to connect Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, cell, email, addresses and other PID is here and it improves by the day.

So, it's time to throw the tech dept some love. Love comes in many forms -- it can mean time, more employees, or more money for upgrading systems. Whichever form -- help make it a priority to get the right systems and workflows in place to collect and sync data.

Foundations also need to stop considering every tech hardware/software expense overhead or non-program related. If funding doesn't help incentivize this change our sector will be in a slow dance toward synchronization until it becomes a priority.