Spread the Good

When it comes to data most fundraisers would just like their queries to be faster and their reports on time.  Sadly they are often disappointed on both fronts so it’s no wonder they are not asking the most important question: “Are my queries and reports accessing all of our data?”

The answer is “No!”

Before you send this to your intrepid database administrator let’s take a quick trip in the tech time machine to when donor management systems started to proliferate. It is the 80’s and entrepreneurs are beginning to use relational databases to create software to store information on donors. Contact information and gifts are the first to be digitized and fundraisers comment that this is not much better than the 3×5 cards that had served them so well before the Jobs/Gates era.

Over the next 25 years data fields grew like kudzu and so did the size of our databases. It is understandable then that users assume when they ask a question it is accessing all of their organizations accumulated data.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite all of the incredible technological advances since those first donor systems they are still based on the premise that data must be placed into a field in order to be accessed. This is known as structured data.

According to IBM 80% of all data is unstructured which means that your imaginative queries and carefully crafted reports are basing their answers on only 20% of the available information.

What makes up that 80%? Primarily text found in documents and e-mails. Have you ever put something really important about a donor in an e-mail or somewhere other than your database such as a Word document?

And what about all that social media activity that mentions your organization? And what about the information found on the blogs and websites of companies and funders you are soliciting? And don’t forget all the videos which are quickly becoming searchable based on every word spoken.

Think for a moment about the value of knowing how many of your campaign prospects are talking about you on social networks or discovering that deep inside a colleague’s trip report is the fact that a current major donor is good friends with the person you have been trying to get an appointment with for the last six months.

The race is on to figure out how to turn the enormous amount of unstructured data into actionable intelligence. Database administrators and vendors know that making decisions based on 20% of the picture is not going to cut it going forward, and simple text searching is a stop-gap measure at best.

In future posts we will look at some of the innovative ways companies and information professionals are working to bring together structured and unstructured data so that your questions benefit from 100% of the available answers.


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