Back when Hart Square started out, data was largely seen as a by-product of a transaction, activity or process. Data collected during a process was stored in a CRM system (if not in Excel) and rarely used unless there was a need for a specific follow-up e.g. data collected during an event booking process was used to deliver the actual event to the delegate.

At that time the leading CRM solutions within the non-profit sector fulfilled that need, and reinforced that perception, by being very good “systems of record” while being poor at analytics or reporting, and often even making data access a specialist task. Reporting was widely provided to business teams by a technical department, often making them inflexible and out-of-date. Many of the charities we worked with had a data team in place to manage the datasets needed by the charity, for example to create data segments on demand when fundraising campaigns were being initiated.

More than a decade later and the digital age is fully upon us, systems and their capabilities are much enhanced. Better yet, engagement systems are more integrated so you can have your members, donors, supporters and all interested parties creating and updating their own details. All round then you’re now able to capture and store more data, and ideally have it updated more frequently.

New technology may provide that solution, but to really reap the benefits of your new technologies, you need an engagement strategy to justify the investment, and alongside that you need a data strategy to be able to execute your engagement strategy.

You need a data strategy to be able to execute your engagement strategy

Modern CRM technologies, and the low cost of storage, tempt and encourage us to capture – and create – more and more data, but this is a pursuit of a false God. We’re far better served by only capturing the data we need, and we have a use for.

If we reduce the range of data we capture we’ll have more capacity to steward and improve the data we do hold, to derive benefit from it. We can ensure it’s cleaner, more complete and more up-to-date. We can then also resource the effort required to acquire new data.

From there we’re in a position where our data can power our engagement programmes, whether that’s about fundraising, membership recruitment and retention, qualifications management, or training courses and event programme participation.

So you need to draw up a data strategy which focuses on your objectives – why you need this data, what you’re going to do with it – as opposed to starting from “this is the data we’ve got”. From the why, you can detail what data you need and how you can acquire it. From this process you can identify the core datasets you need, the use you’ll put them to, and then the technology, processes and resources you require to capture, maintain and execute it.

Drawing up a data strategy is no quick and easy undertaking, but once you have it agreed and in place, with the resources allocated to allow you to achieve its objectives, you can look forward to becoming a data-driven non-profit with an effective engagement programme, and to being significantly better placed to deliver on your mission.

Just remember that creating a data strategy isn’t a standalone activity; it must be driven by your overarching business strategy. Therefore, a critical starting point for any data strategy is the business’s strategic objectives. To put it another way, what is your non-profit trying to achieve and how can data help you get there?

After all, what’s the point of a data strategy – indeed, what’s the point of data in general – if it doesn’t help you achieve your non-profit’s goals? So before you charge ahead to your data strategy, review your business strategy first and then develop your data strategy.


Want to know more? Join our upcoming webinar event on 24 November ‘Get the most out of your data for engagement, recruitment and retention’

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