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Thoughts & Musings

The Secret To Better Collaboration Isn’t Hiding Data


Nonprofits are tirelessly working to advance their cause, often times with a minimal investment in technology - or more critically, the lack of a well-defined strategy for that technology to advance their mission.  As a result, most nonprofits have data everywhere - in applications, spreadsheets, post-it notes, or just in someone’s head.  More mature organizations have databases, but often different applications for different purposes (one for donors, one for emails, one for volunteers, etc.).  Due to this, data remains in silos, processes are inconsistent, and there's no central place for institutional memory.  Because that shared knowledge is missing, it's hard to tell what might be going on with any donor, partner, or program at any point in time. With no central platform to facilitate this communication, team members are constantly forced to hunt down information rather than focusing on higher value tasks.

I’ve been fortunate to get called in to such organizations to help create a strategy for better collaboration and implement a CRM system to support it.  Personally, I find it invigorating to see groups from all across an organization come together to design a centralized system with shared terminology and metrics so there is a consistent process and measure of success.  But without fail, when it comes to the discussion of security (who can see what data?)...all bets are off!

While everyone agrees to the benefits of a shared platform, many are reluctant to share their data across the organization.  And understandably so - if I’m a major gift officer and I’ve worked hard to cultivate relationships with donors and have gotten accustomed to owning those relationships, the last thing I want is for someone else to have that same donor’s information, or for others to see the interactions I've had, or for others to see what my pipeline looks like.  I’ve also heard the fear that another development officer may poach my major giving prospects.  Or leadership is concerned that keeping the security model “open” may allow a rogue employee to take all their data and use it in some malevolent way.


These are all valid concerns, but I’d say if you are worried about gift officers stealing prospects or disgruntled employees misusing data, there may be some broader trust issues at your organization that a CRM security model will not solve :)  And if you think throwing thousands of dollars to build a complex security model in your CRM can prevent people from doing the wrong things...think again.

My advice - keep it open!  Of course, depending on the work you do there could be legal or regulatory reasons to keep data hidden (HIPAA, legal case work, etc.), or even Planned Giving information that would be highly sensitive to share across an organization - by and large, the benefits to an open security model will far outweigh the risks:

  • There will be a shared understanding of what’s happening across the organization
  • Staff will have an informed discussion before talking to a constituent by seeing their interaction history
  • Staff can see if key influencers are being “overburdened” by multiple asks and requests across the organization
  • It can uncover "cross-fundraising" opportunities unavailable before i.e. access to volunteers, event attendees, social media advocates and others...any of which can become your next big donor!  
  • It can create best practices - seeing what steps worked for a major giving win would be great to share across the organization

All of this can happen through better collaboration, and all of this starts with an open security model.  Complex security models can be costly to build, so why build it upfront in fear of what might happen?  Keep it open, see how the organization adapts to it, and if there is a real need to start closing certain areas off, do it in an iterative fashion.  As with any customization, you’ll make smarter and more economical decisions after users have spent time in the system.

So go ahead - share, collaborate, and reap the collective benefits of all your hard work!

Rubin Singh is the Founder and CEO of OneTenth Consulting.  OneTenth has a full range of services for small and medium nonprofits, from fundraising strategy, to CRM selection, to implementation and training.  OneTenth empowers nonprofits by aligning their organizational, fundraising, and technology strategies, providing the tools and insight they need to meet their goals and achieve their mission.