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


A Business Intelligence Strategy Helps Associations Succeed

 Isn't it time you found Business Intelligence software is needed to succeed?
As a Nonprofit Executive, your intelligence has to shine through the data you store in your donor, member, and/or events database. In this article, we wanted to explore the important aspects of business intelligence and how it can be viewed in nonprofits today.

 How often do you ask “What if” & scramble to find the answers? 

For forward thinking organization, when an association wants to know more about its critical operation, “THE WHAT IF”,  it will utilize various report writers to mine the data they have.  In most cases, a lot of massaging and even praying is involved, right? Often times (hopefully not today in your nonprofit) business intelligence information is delivered by spreadsheets, charts, graphs and more. Thankfully, today there are key  interactive features of business intelligence found today in most Association Management platforms designed for use in various ways including mobile devices.  According to an article  in CIO magazine, “BI should be sponsored by an executive who has bottom-line responsibility; has a broad picture of the enterprise objectives, strategy and goals; and knows how to translate the company mission into key performance indicators that will support that mission.” Generally speaking, the business intelligence software found in donor databases and membership systems will provide a basic understanding of your information assets and more possessed by the nonprofit. But, do you have confidence in the data? Do you know how to utilize the data to make sense of it? Does your organization have time to actually collate and make sense of it? Here are several considerations to chew on when thinking about business intelligence and utilization of it:

Goals Are Important here too!


A company needs to set goals and understand what they want from their database. After analyzing current operations a business intelligence plan with specific goals can be designed. Here is a funny depiction of the challenges today:

Are you lost and trying to find answers in your database? We can help connect you with solutions.

Data Agreement 

Continuous study and intelligent understanding of your organizational data empowers your entire management team. When a company is pursuing BI it needs to have all elements of the business in agreement of what it means to them. If the member department and finance department have two different understandings of what is defined as net gain, their numbers for the same item won’t match. This can be handled by a uniform set of definitions utilized by all sections of the business.

Member and Engagement Data Storage

Many companies start out today with a database which is cost-effective but can’t grow and change with the company. In essence, they move into an “Apartment” solution and grow into a new “Home”. A company needs to determine if they have a storage problem, a software report writer problem, or some other issue keeping them from obtaining the information they require to run their business better.  Suffice it to say, a data warehouse is challenging to design but many nonprofits today have a member or donor database. And, a database with a report writer, theoretically, is all an organization needs to start acting on the intelligence you have curated over the years.

Time and Expertise

As stated by Bear Analytics, a provider of data intelligence services, “Data is your organizational DNA”.  Your organization must get the most out of it’s data. For a nonprofit, this could include such things as revenue forecasting, member forecasting, attendee forecasting, & engagement knowledge and more.  But, like most nonprofits resources are limited in two critical areas: staffing and time. Because of this limitation, collecting, organizing and analyzing information often does not get adequate attention. Time, Expertise, and focus is paramount to find success in business intelligence.  If you are having a difficult time getting the data you need to make pin pointed decisions from your database system, perhaps it’s time to review a better way.

Contact us today and learn more about the solutions available and partners you need to succeed with your data today. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.



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What is Business Intelligence and Why Your Nonprofit Needs it!

Does your #Donor or #Member database provide useful intelligence?


It is surprising to many but sometimes nonprofit & association leaders, especially founders “on a mission,” do not think about their organization as being a business—but it is. In this article, we explore why the curation of data (business intelligence) is critical in nonprofits today.

But,we are a Nonprofit!

This is quite ridiculous to say, isn’t it? Every nonprofit organization must think like a business in order to survive. From the basics of paying employees appropriately and on time to the complexities of competing with other nonprofits for scarce donor and grant resources, nonprofits must be willing to think practically and strategically if they are going to be around long enough to make a difference in the world.

This is why it is important for leaders in nonprofit organizations to both know about business intelligence and be willing to make use of its tools when it comes to making important decisions.

The phrase “business intelligence” is about using a “decision support system” to aid in decision-making and planning, and it was created as part of the process of modeling how computers make decisions. The term was first used in 1958 by an IBM researcher, who realized that businesses could gain a critical advantage in leading action toward a desired goal when they took a look at the interrelationships between facts and aspects in an organization.

Today, business intelligence and analytics is an entire field, using the following methodologies to help organizations with their strategic planning, goal development and actions plans:

  • Measurement (these days often in the form of performance metrics which can gauge the effectiveness of organizational procedures and enhancements)
  • Analytics (building an analysis of processes within the organization to help support better understanding of the business and its performance)
  • “Enterprise” reporting (where “enterprise” means viewing the organization from a strategic perspective, as opposed to operational reporting on the success of certain operations)
  • Collaboration (getting unconnected areas of the organization to work together toward a common goal)
  • Knowledge management (using certain business tools to facilitate the adoption of critical business knowledge and insights with dashboards)

So what might this look like for a nonprofit association?

If you have a certain campaign that has been a part of the organization for years, you can measure its effectiveness over time, analyze what processes in your nonprofit are supporting the campaign, step back to make sure that this campaign supports the needs of the nonprofit now and in the years ahead, work to get full-organizational support for the campaign, and recognize how its value plays into marketing and communications for your organization’s mission.

True, business Intelligence is built into many nonprofit database software today, but are you using it? If you would like to discuss a few options and/or connect with a partner who can deliver a solution, feel free to contact us today.


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