Blog posts

What actually happens in a charity CRM "data migration"?

Chris Houghton
October 24, 2019

Changing the CRM database is an exciting time of big change for any charity.      

While terms like "CRM" or "database" might not sound particularly exciting (we've found they can only go so far in a dinner party conversation) the truth is that getting a new charity CRM database can enable you to:

  1. Save a huge amount of admin time
  2. Do a great deal more

This means less faffing around with data, less pulling off spreadsheet reports that never seem to be quite right, and more time focusing on the core mission of your organisation.

However - there's this rather ominous (scary!) sounding topic that everyone seems to keep avoiding.... data migration.

What exactly is a data migration?

While it's an intimidating term, essentially a data migration is all about moving your data from A to B.

If you don't have a CRM system already and you're current working primarily out of spreadsheets, a data migration essentially boils down to taking all of your existing that that you have in your spreadsheet(s), and uploading it into your new CRM.

If you do have database software already and you're upgrading to a modern cloud based database (like Beacon), then this becomes a two step process:

  1. Export the data from your existing database (to CSVs)
  2. Import the data into your new charity CRM

The specifics beyond this will vary quite a bit based on what you're looking to use your CRM for, but if what you're primarily looking for is a fundraising crm to help you with donor management, you'll probably want to migrate the following to your new system:

  • Donors
  • Fundraisers
  • Gift Aid Declarations
  • Payments
  • Fundraising campaigns

During the migration, it's important to take some time configuring the new system to make sure that the new database is set up to handle all of your existing data - you can't import anything until this is done!

Tip: make sure your new CRM database can handle all of the data that matters to you.

Additionally, be prepared to do a bit of spring cleaning ✨ during the migration. You'll probably have:

  • Some messy data (e.g. invalid email addresses or phone numbers)
  • Fields/columns that have hardly ever been used (which you can ignore)

Who is going to do our migration?

This is a really important question, and one that should be answered early on.

If you're evaluating a few different CRM solutions, you should pose this question to each of them. Many providers (like Beacon) have a network of "solutions partners", CRM and data consultants who are experts in the charity space, and can support you with migrating your data, training, and customising the new system to fit your needs.

Some other providers offer data migration services in-house.

Alternatively, you might prefer to do this yourself! If you don't have much data to import, this is certainly very manageable, particularly with the help of free online training.

None of these approaches is inherently good or bad - but this will of course affect the relationship you have with the CRM database provider that you choose.

Who is going to manage the data migration?

This is another important question to answer. It's one thing to have a migration partner or an in-house services team, but there will still be a decent chunk of work to do your end as well.

We'd recommend deciding on a project manager in your team for the project. This will help keep the implementation nice and smooth, and the database provider (or implementation partner) will really appreciate it!

Remember: you know more about your data than anyone else.

Ideally, the person managing the project should be:

  1. Data savvy
  2. Organised

If you have one, this will probably be your database manager, but in smaller organisations, this could simply be the person who's best with spreadsheets / the current database.

How long does a data migration take?

The answer to this question will depend quite a bit on your organisation, and the complexity of data you have.

For small charities (say 5-10 employees), it's likely the whole process should be done and dusted within 2 months.

For larger, multi-national charities where you want "zero downtime" when switching over from one system to another, then realistically you're probably talking closer to 1-2 years.

CRM databases are best implemented one piece at a time. Taking a "phased" or "agile" 🤓 approach is usually hugely beneficial here.

Start with your most important data.

Think about it - you're introducing a new system, and you want everyone in your team to login to the database on a day-to-day basis. Do you really want to overwhelm them by trying to do everything at once in the new system on day 1?

Additionally, it can take time to fine-tune a database to your exact needs. Taking a feedback-driven approach and making speedy improvements will work wonders here.

Screenshot 2019-10-24 at 08.27.22

Got a question about migrating your data? Feel free to drop us a message using the chat icon in the bottom-right - we'd love to speak!