Focus on Your Data

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain why data is key to the success of your Salesforce implementation.
  • List the critical components of a data management plan.

Your Data is a Strategic Asset

Data can help your organization decide where to invest precious resources, determine when and how you engage with constituents, tell your story of impact, and identify next steps in the journey to meet your mission. Whether you recognize it or not, data is one of your most important strategic assets.

Nonprofit Cloud will help you bring all of your disparate data into a single place that will serve as the foundation for a more unified constituent and staff experience. But more than that, having your data in Salesforce enables your organization to take full advantage of your data as a catalyst for organization-wide improvement. This isn’t just a shift in technology, but a critical shift in culture that can take your impact to the next level.

On the flip side, data is also a huge potential challenge facing any constituent relationship management (CRM) project. Developing a data-driven culture requires that your teams trust the data in your system. Unfortunately, many folks who start using a new system are already wary of the data based on previous experience. How many times have you heard complaints about duplicates, errors, or missing data in a system? As soon as trust is broken, the system falls apart as users take shortcuts assuming they can’t make the data any worse than it is already.

Of course, nurturing a data-first culture requires more than just having clean data. It also requires changing mindsets and habits and making data part of the daily workflow. Nonprofit Cloud (and Tableau) can help with that too. But it all starts with trusting the accuracy and completeness of the data.  

Be Intentional with Data Migration

Unless you’re starting from scratch, you likely already have some existing data that you need to migrate to Nonprofit Cloud. Salesforce provides some tools to streamline the process and automate the translation of your data into Salesforce objects. That said, you’ll want to plan to spend a good amount of time getting data out of your old system, determining what data should be migrated, cleaning it up, and then matching it to new fields in Nonprofit Cloud. To move things along more quickly, it can be tempting to just bring in the old data and assume you will clean it up later. (It can also be tempting to juggle axes. We don’t recommend either.)

If you’re planning to migrate large amounts of data from your old system, you might also want to think about how much of that data really needs to exist in your new Nonprofit Cloud org. To optimize user experience, you should only bring over the data needed to be fully operational on day one.

Take Only What You Need

Let's think about Nonprofit Cloud as our dream house again. As you prepare to move and start packing up boxes of items from your old house, you come across a set of your grandmother’s old fashioned tumblers. Wait a second, are they going to match the design of your new home? Do you take them or not?

As you think about implementing Salesforce, you might start to ask similar questions about your data.

Cold, Warm, and Hot Data

As you prepare your data for migration, it can be helpful to sort your data into three buckets–hot, warm, and cold.

A grandma sipping iced tea and knitting with three baskets of yarn at her feet–hot, warm, cold

Hot data is the data you need every day to meet the needs of your users and constituents. This is the data you should plan to migrate and make available in Nonprofit Cloud on day one. This data might be a list of currently engaged constituents, volunteers, or funders. In this case, grandma’s tumblers get packed up, polished, and placed prominently in a glass cabinet in the new kitchen.

Warm data is data that your users might need occasionally, and you will want to be able to access it relatively easily. At the same time, you don’t want it getting in the way of day-to-day work (poor user experience, adding to data storage costs, etc). This data may be stored in Salesforce or not, but it should be accessible to users with some additional effort on their part. In this case, grandma’s tumblers get wrapped up, moved, and stored in the basement.

Cold data is information that you may need to touch once in a while, but it’s okay if you have to take a trip to another location to get it. This is data that you may need to pull up to reference for special requests or compliance purposes. Generally, this isn’t data you would need to edit. If we think about grandma’s tumblers, cold storage would mean putting them in a storage unit or convincing a relative to hold onto them for you. As long as they're still “yours,” but stored somewhere else, you’re happy.

In your initial implementation, prioritize bringing over your “hot” data first. And if users report needing easier access to some data that ended up in your “warm” bucket, no worries, you can always bring that over later.

Some nonprofits choose to use multiple Salesforce instances or connect external applications with Salesforce. For those nonprofits, an integration strategy will be critical to long-term adoption and data management. Like your plan for data migration, prioritize bringing in only the most relevant data with a focus on information that is timely, valuable, and actionable (hot!). And before you open the pipes and bring in even more data into your Salesforce org, it’s critical to have an integration testing plan and data quality plan in place. This will ensure you’re bringing in data correctly and are able to identify any problems immediately.

Put together a data archival strategy for any leftover data in the cold and warm buckets. We won’t dig into the details of creating a data archival plan here, but check out the resources at the end of this unit for more information.

Investing the time to do data migration right saves time in the long run, helps create a good user experience, and assures users that they can trust the data in your new system, starting the very first time they log in.

Plan for Ongoing Data Management

Equally important to bringing healthy data into your system is having a plan in place to keep your data clean as the system is used. Salesforce has several tools that can help assist users with data entry, prevent the creation of duplicates, check data for accuracy, and validate certain types of fields. And offers a product called Insights Platform Data Integrity that can help with address verification, standardization, and data deduplication. That said, you’ll also want to plan for the right mix of training, monitoring, and regular cleanup to maintain good data health.


Having accurate data requires the cooperation of every person who has access to the system. While an initial training might be comprehensive, in reality, as teams start using Nonprofit Cloud, they will likely be preoccupied with their day-to-day work and try to take some shortcuts with data entry. And they will almost certainly run into unanticipated situations that require them to make decisions about how to enter data. Imagine each of your wonderfully unique staff members creating their own exclusive way to enter data. You’ll have one-of-a-kind artisanal records! And also, a mishmash of inconsistent data. Users need gentle reminders, on-going training, and responsive support to be good data stewards.  


No matter how much training you do, however, problems with your data will emerge over time. Unfortunately, data problems often grow like weeds. Some weeds emerge from user error or a batch process gone awry. Others grow from an unanticipated technical change. The reality is that weeds are going to sneak into your CRM garden one way or another. Of course, if you only discover the problem at the very moment you're creating a mailing list for your end-of-the-year fundraising appeal, you might be in trouble. On the other hand, if you have systems in place (like reports and dashboards) to regularly monitor the quality of your data and weed out the problems when they first appear, then you can identify and correct issues early and have the data you need when you need it. 


Of course, once you review your reports and see you have a data problem, you have to set aside time on a regular basis to clean things up. With the right permissions, users can help by merging duplicate objects. But for mass cleanup, there are lots of free and paid apps on the Salesforce AppExchange to help.

The truth is, data is complicated and detailed. At any given time, your data is basically doing its best to get messy. Starting out with the right data, and having a plan in place to keep it healthy, is critical to helping your organization tap the potential of your data and become a truly data-driven nonprofit.


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