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.

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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.

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How Segmentation Can Boost Members’ Engagement

Database Segmentation increases engagement

As a director of a professional association, you know that competition for your members has serious consequences for retaining current members as well as adding to your membership rolls. And if you follow my blogs, you get that the one critical factor that acts like a magnet for membership is engagement. In this article, I underscore the importance of having strong database segmentation in order to improve communications, participation, and ultimately engagement.

Boosting Engagement Via Segmentation Of Your Database

Have you ever received a mailer or email that had no relevance? Of course you have! I do all the time. Now you ask, what’s the best practice to boost engagement? Good question. Well, apart from the obvious example above. It turns out that the answer is straightforward: segmentation.

What is segmentation?

In the context of professional association membership, it simply means organizing your members into groupings of shared interests. Examples include members who joined to land a new job, or members whose main interest is attending social events. Interestingly, I read that segmentation is a concept coined in economics and
now used commonly in marketing. In the ancient past (you define your own ancient), most of the ways we used to connect with members were broad-brush push strategies. Segments were hard to define and expensive to reach.

Segmentation works best when the categories, or segments, you choose closely fit the profiles of your members.

  • Create definitions for each of your segments. If your membership includes a wide age range, one way to segment might be Gen Xers, Millennials, and Boomers. Another way to segment might be employed, retired, and seeking new jobs. Yet another may be seeking a mentor and willing to mentor.
  • It’s best not to assume you know your general membership profile. Research has shown that it pays to poll members on what they seek to gain from membership in your association.

Identify the Data you Have (and Don’t Have)

It doesn’t matter if you have the best query tool on the market, if you don’t have good data. You can’t measure engagement if you don’t have the data to measure it. So the first step in this process is identifying all the data your association currently manages (whether it’s in your primary database or elsewhere) as well as data that you’re not collecting that you should be. If your database cannot store demographic information beyond the standard fields, limits your ability to create your own fields, or puts a cap on how many fields can be created, look for another one. Good Segmentation starts with good data.

Know Your Constituents Preferences Too

I cringe when I hear that some associations are still sending out their newsletter to their entire database. Today, it’s imperative to know what your members care about and how they prefer to receive your message too. Today, many membership and donor databases have built in communication capabilities to communicate the right message to the right people at the right time. In my opinion, when your members signed up to join and or contribute to your cause, you made a promise to deliver service based on what they cared about. You should be able to query your database based on the attributes of interest of your membership.

The Research Proves Segmentation Works

I recently reviewed an eBook from the software firm Abila. In this eBook, Abila undertook a recent study that peels back the layers underpinning member engagement. They asked:

  1. What matters most to members when they join an organization?
  2. What makes members feel involved and engaged?
  3. How can organizations better communicate?
  4. Are professional member organizations engaging members in a segmented, targeted, personal way?

The study results, found here, serve up these headlines:

  • Jobs matter. Abila found that “today’s new members join organizations – first and foremost – for job opportunities. Socializing/networking and professional development also rank close to the top.” .
  • Attracting members early in their careers—within the first five years—works best.
  • On the value of some member benefits, it may be ships passing in the night. Here’s why: “Professional organizations put too much emphasis on meetings and conferences, as well as advocacy. And, they put too little emphasis on job opportunities, credentialing, and certifications, as well as standards and ethics, based on what members say they’re looking for in a membership organization.”
  • If you are not targeting age and career stage in your messaging, you may be missing key engagement opportunities. The study revealed: “There are stark differences in the way younger and early career members like to be communicated with versus older, more established members.”

Generally speaking, members view their associations as valuable—with a key caveat. The caveat: segmentation—“know thy members”—makes all the difference to members’ engagement.(Emphasis added.)

You can’t know what’s important (Careers, Generations, Preferences etc.) and how to get the information to your members, if you can’t segment your database.

Does Your Database Have the Query Abilities Needed for Segmentation?

Interesting analysis. I believe that any modern database should be able to store unlimited attributes (what school did they attend, who is their spouse etc.) But, it should be easy to query too in order to create and maintain lists dynamically. If you are struggling to know what could be, contemplate the following questions:

  • Can the database manage multiple segmented queries & lists?
  • Can it create list segments based on behavioral history or other attributes?
  • Does the platform consolidate all information (characteristics, behaviors, actions, etc.) about a unique member into one dynamic profile?
  • Can membership, development, & the executive director share this information? In real time?
  • Can the database integrate with other systems, sharing data back and forth seamlessly and dynamically in real time?
  • Does it share critical time-sensitive information with various departments via some kind of notification?
  • Does everyone have the capability to enter and update information pertinent for segmentation?

Your Constituents Demand Better Personalization 

Your members demand and deserve value-based interactions across all points of engagement. In the world today, customer centricity is the driving force of meaningful, mutually beneficial engagement.

No longer can nonprofits state that they do not have the access to the right tools. The tools you need are there. They aren’t out of your reach for any reason including dollars and cents. To engage with your constituents in a significant way, you have to be aware of what they care about and query the information quickly to send out messages. There is no excuse!

Do You Have the Best Database for the Job? 

Now all you need is the best software that supports you on your path to boosting membership. We can help you sort out the software options out there and find the perfect solution for your new member engagement strategies.

Please contact us to learn more. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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