Benefiting from Dark Unstructured Data: What It Is & Why You Need It

Unstructured Dark Data in Nonprofits

One of the trends that has completely swept organizations is the massive surge in data. No matter what form it takes, there is no denying that organizations now have more information at their fingertips than ever before. This has been a boon for many, since the data aids in understanding donors and members better and as well as driving insight for maximum optimization. In this article, I wanted to address the need for organizations to understand the value in information which is often times elusive: Dark Data.

Benefiting from Unstructured Dark Data

Data comes in many shapes and forms and understanding the differences between structured and unstructured dark data is pivotal for success. Unfortunately, for many nonprofit associations unstructured dark data cannot be used in conjunction with other information when trying to formulate a customer, member or donor profile. Especially their likes and dislikes, or what they discuss in public social media outlets. Social Intelligence for many is disparate data which is housed in the public domain and remains separate.

Benefiting from unstructured data may seem like a difficult task, but its efforts reap rewards since organizations can use it to make informed decisions. For many organizations, the best way to glean that information is to collect unstructured data from private cloud based communities and leverage that to obtain a holistic understanding of what customers truly care about. Let’s dig into that more.

What Exactly Is Unstructured Dark Data?

The term may seem confusing. But, unstructured data generally refers to information derived from sources such as emails, chat sessions, open-ended survey feedback, social media and other sources of free-form interactions.

Generally, speculation suggests that about 80% to 90% of enterprise data can be considered unstructured. According to Forrester, enterprises leverage about 35% of their structured data for insights and decision-making, but only 25% of their unstructured enterprise data.

Perhaps one reasoning for that statistic is that unstructured data is qualitative in nature rather than quantitative, making it a little difficult to wrangle. Unfortunately, it does not lend itself well when it comes to conforming  to predetermined CRM format. Its lack of structure means that it does not adhere to the realm of names, addresses and other data that are commonly found in CRMs.

Why Do You Need Unstructured Dark Data?

Quite frankly, many associations and nonprofits have access to structured data. For the most part structured data is readily available yet still remains a challenge to use in a meaningful way. For many, this topic of using unstructured data is daunting. But, the goal should be considered nonetheless.

Why? Structured data is unable to provide context and sentiment the way unstructured data can. Activity and information not captured by your constituents provides limited results & misguided action. You need structured and unstructured dark data because it could be the best source in understanding the complete view of your customers on a more personal level.

Perhaps, the big audacious goal for many organizations today is to strive to report on the structured data better. And, introduce various technology to collect data on their donors and members which has not been known before; Dark Data.

Let’s talk about Dark Data.

Social Data Is Priceless Dark Data 

In the context of the data at your nonprofit, Dark Data is anything that is hidden or undigested by the organizations stakeholders who need it most. I believe that social data and the intelligence derived from it for many organizations is elusive and hidden. If it is not collected, it’s unstructured and it is dark.

Granted, many membership organizations and nonprofits have a Facebook page, LinkedIn Page, or use some other public social media device but the value is not symbiotic. In other words, you solve the immediate need to have a place for community. But, the organization doesn’t get the analytics behind what participation is transpiring. It’s hidden.

Data hidden which is found is akin to hitting the lottery. This data may prove to be a jackpot for many nonprofits in the future.

The Illumination of Value when Social Data and CRM Data Are Fused 

When organizations seek to implement CRM’s, many executives focus on the mere operational aspects of what the tools bring to the table: did a member pay their dues, register for an event, or make a contribution. What financial activity has transpired and how many times did we reach out to them. That type of information is critical.

Along with providing a resource for your constituents to connect and develop meaningful relationships with their peers, there is immense value in the social intelligence which can be collected from community engagement platforms.

But, if this community platform is public, your community social data is considered Dark Data. Ultimately, The value of social data and CRM data is incredible. Many organizations see tremendous value in a privately branded cloud based community management software tool to help here.

Do not misunderstand my point here. Transactional and profile information found in an enterprise CRM, Donor, or Membership Software platform is critical. But, the integrated social data is by and large the one of the biggest advantages for building a private community program.

With introducing a private community platform, the following may be recorded by your organization:

  • Overall traffic of groups
  • Member participation
  • Views and popular Topics
  • Announcements
  • Blog posts
  • Community groups
  • Contacts with connections
  • Discussion messages
  • Document uploads & downloads
  • Events and calendar
  • Glossary entries
  • Mentoring opportunities
  • Library resources

The Magical Insights of Dark Data Found Via System Integration 

The magic lies in integration and marrying the structured data and the dark data found in systems like private community platforms.

Integrated data can help you plug in gaps and aid in crafting an overall marketing strategy. Moreover, this information can be used to share leads and opportunities with other departments.

Every department at your nonprofit should be supplied with the right privileges to access the data and use it to bolster their operations. For many, the key is having a solution which provides a solution for “Syncing information”. “Syncing” data back and forth between all key elements of your technology enterprise is imperative. Without it, you are only playing with limited engagement information.

With data being synchronized, the organization is provided a snapshot of it’s overall constituent activities. Activity could be event attendance, webinars or something as simple as accepting community terms of use.  All of these different elements added up can help you create a single, unified engagement score. Plus, you will able to generate monthly/quarterly/annual engagement report cards to track and present to stakeholders.

What Else Should We Know About Dark Data?

Unstructured dark data is only as good as the technology tools and processes behind it. In order to gain maximum benefit from any data, the analysis needs to be customized, accessible, and contain integrity to derive useful insights.

Software vendors with capable analytics and point solutions which capture the unstructured data is a must have. To learn more about how unstructured data & what tools are necessary to transform your nonprofit, trade, or professional organization, please do not hesitate to contact us.

private branded community software list


Humans Beware! Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a Non-Profit CRM?

Artificial Intelligence in Nonprofit Technology

No doubt you’ve heard plenty about artificial intelligence recently and how it’s changing virtually every industry. While most analysis falls on how AI works in analyzing data, or in technological fields, we don’t always hear about how it’s helping the non-profit world. In this article, let us take a look at how artificial intelligence is relevant in the nonprofit membership world too.

Artificial Intelligence In Nonprofit Technology 

As someone who runs a non-profit organization, artificial intelligence might sound like a foreign concept. Yet, when you apply it to customer relationship management software, it opens the door wide to working better with your constituents.

Everything from improved communication with donors to predictive analytics now become enhanced from what CRMs did before. AI simply provides you the ability to:

  • Discover insights better
  • Predict outcomes
  • Recommend best next steps
  • Automate tasks

In the areas of client development and membership management in your non-profit, it’s going to work wonders. In my mind, Artificial intelligence (AI) is a game changer that’s going to transform the very foundation of how we live and work. It’s time to think about it.

The Origins of AI in CRM 

This last year, SalesForce (one of the leaders in CRM software) added Einstein to their platform. With this AI program, they made their CRM even smarter since it’s able to customize for smarter and more personalized client experiences.

Your non-profit center obviously has to keep communicated with your donors throughout the year. A CRM is great at giving you communication tools without doing things manually. However, AI is going to make this more targeted based on its ability to fully understand donor motivations.

Since 90% of non-profits already report they gain a return on CRM investment within a year, imagine what AI could do in improving donations and membership participation.

Working on Client Development

The more you can fully understand who your valuable donors or members are, the more effectively you can reach out to them in asking for help. AI is going to aid in bringing a wider, unified view of those involved in your non-profit. Having this complete picture is imperative so you have one place to interact with everyone, from volunteers to affiliates.

Software like SalesForce makes client development easy by applying their Einstein program to marketing communications. Through smarter AI-based automation, you can send emails, social media posts, or mobile messages at just the right time rather than based on estimations.

AI gives you improved ways to help you fundraise in the process too. Now you can manage your donation cycle through a more intuitive automation system to reduce time-consuming manual tasks.

Doing so helps your client base development by communicating and managing their donations at times when they prefer. This is critical so your non-profit doesn’t come off as being too pushy.

Improving Your Membership

If you’re experiencing a decline in your membership lately, AI has capabilities to improve this with further resourceful insight. It’s going to assist in creating community engagement, either digitally or offline.

Some of this can work through a social intranet to create conversation with clients the AI program knows are the most valuable.

Predictive analytics become more intelligent with AI by showing you which demographics you should target and which ones to let go. Despite CRM platforms always providing thorough analytics, you need something that can tap into the sometimes unpredictable whims of your constituents.

It learns from all your data, and delivers predictions and recommendations based on your unique business processes. In some cases, it even automates tasks for you, freeing up time for you to connect with your customers.

Now you’ll know which members to continually nurture relationships with for a dependable donor list when donations become imperative.

Are Humans Becoming Obsolete?  

Are you ready for AI at your nonprofit? The odds are no.

But, I believe you need to begin to think about AI. Why? Frankly, because AI is transforming the way we live and it will continue to creep into the devices we use personally and in business for years to come. Nonprofits are not immune to this trend which will become reality sooner than we may believe.

No reason to be alarmed, ok? It is not like the TV series “Humans“, where we are on the edge of a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant that’s so similar to a real human it’s transforming the way they live.

No, the truth is we are just starting down this path but many software vendors will piggy back on the concepts unveiled recently and begin to think through how they will meet the needs of society in this area moving forward.

Contact us at SmartThoughts to learn more about the right software and CRM technologies to buy for your non-profit company.

Best CRM Fundraising Software List



Before You Even Call A Vendor: Know The 3 Buckets of Nonprofit Marketing Tech

Before Googling Nonprofit Technology Options

Buying the software to power your nonprofit is an intimidating task. Your ability to fund-raise, advocate, and create meaningful change rely on this one big choice.  Not to mention it is usually one of the largest costs for an organization. In this article, we get a fresh perspective from LeadPup on how to classify and steps to take before calling a nonprofit technology provider which specializes in marketing technology. 

The Wrong Way to Buy NP Marketing Tech

In a hurried rush to alleviate their current CRM bottleneck, or even mish-mash of cheaper software solutions, organizations will often start searching the web for every product that looks like it could do the trick.  Unfortunately, this often leads to time wasted and the wrong software choice.

Make your search more efficient and effective.  This saves you time and money throughout your tech search, and more importantly, allows your organizations to improve its fundraising and communications.  And of course, better execute on your mission.

Understand This Framework BEFORE You Look at a Single NP TECH Vendor

All-In-One NP Tech for Marketing 

AIO, All-In-One, solutions attempt to support an entire marketing organization with a single platform. The value of an AIO solution is easily calculated by determining the extent to which the system supports each of the critical marketing functions that an organization requires. Often, when a marketing team selects an AIO solution, the tool works well to meet the program’s needs; however, if the organization’s marketing program evolves and the AIO solution is not improved at an equal pace, the value of the system can plummet quickly.

In the nonprofit (NP Tech) space, a dozen viable AIO solutions have been on the market for the last 15 years. While there are of course exceptions, entry level AIO systems can cost a minimum of $10,000 to deploy and as little as little as several hundred dollars per month for marketers with small email lists. Sophisticated organizations should expect to pay six figures to support deployment and integration, with monthly costs ranging from $500 to $50,000 per month in software fees. 

We feel that AIO solutions are good solutions for organizations whose programs are fairly simple or are relatively new. They allow organizations to fix their investment in marketing technology, while maximizing their options for the team or internal staff who manage the system. 

Examples: Blackbaud Luminate, Engaging Networks, Salsa 


Best-In-Class, BIC solutions, provide organizations with the strongest, most unfettered options for the components of their marketing technology stack. Many BIC solutions are deployed to accept data from hundreds of different sources and deliver upwards of thousands of campaign files on a monthly basis.

The vast majority of organizations that use BIC solutions contract with a vendor who procures, deploys, and manages all of the technology and marketing services associated with the stack. The solutions involve the integration of strong commercial software applications along with proprietary code to support things like consumer data integration. The BIC solution does what it says, offering the customer the best possible options for all pieces of the marketing tech stack.

These solutions are used from mid-sized retailers to leading insurance companies but, to a much lesser degree, large nonprofit organizations. BIC solutions cost between $500,000 to $1,000,000 to deploy and anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 per month for support and technology.

BIC solutions are best for marketing organizations that manage established, sophisticated programs across many different media and channels. Their cost for performance is best realized by marketing organizations that have extremely high volumes of consumer and transactional data files coming into the system. Lastly, organizations that use these systems tend to be managing 100+ campaigns across media per month.

Examples: Jackson River Springboard


Best-Of-Breed, BOB solutions, attempt to provide organizations greater performance through broad choice of the components used across the stack. A BOB solution is often anchored around one open and flexible component in the stack – usually the contact or campaign management component.

The consumer data integration, promotion, and public facing forms are integrated into the anchor application. A high quality BOB solution can provide greater performance than an AIO solution for a similar cost after the initial deployment and configuration is complete. BOB solutions can be deployed with a progressive strategy that allows new components to be added or replaced over time, as a marketing program evolves.

BOB solutions are most successful when adequate resources are allocated for ongoing support and change management. This support is most often provided to organizations by a 3rd party vendor who provides strong support for change management.

Budget wise, they are best for organizations that can afford a deployment cost of several hundred thousand dollars and $20,000 to $40,000 per month in software costs and support services.

BOB solutions are best for marketing organizations that are rapidly innovating or are dedicating significant resources to improving an established program. They are often best for programs that focus on relatively few promotional media (i.e. email and direct mail) and have a moderate volume of campaigns (e.g. 15 per month).

Examples: EveryAction

The 3 Buckets – Side-by-Side Comparison of NP Tech for Marketing

In the chart below, we compare the three types of nonprofit marketing technology solutions with each of the major components of marketing technology. These are of course generalizations, but having reviewed and built hundreds of software applications and solutions, we are confident that these assumptions hold true for the NP Tech community.

Compare Nonprofit Donor Fundraising Software

Applying This Framework – Pick Your NP Tech Solution Type

  1. Identify which features are most critical to your organization (green boxes).
  2. Start your search by identifying these features in a software solution (perhaps starting with a list from SmartThought Solutions…).
  3. Use Those Free Trials!!  Never make such an important decision without getting your hands dirty in the program. 
  4. Make Your Purchase!
  5. Take advantage of all services to help you migrate your data.  You just paid a lot of money, get all the support you deserve. 
  6. Get back to work – knowing that your tech will help, not hinder your cause!

We are proud to offer this great content on NP Tech written by LeadPup. Who is LeadPup? LeadPup helps organizations find and cultivate strong donor and membership leads.  We also regularly produce resources to help nonprofits with their marketing.  Join us here to learn more.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts mind.

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