5 Things to Consider When Converting Church Data

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Transferring existing information to a new system can be nerve-wracking. Here's what you need to remember.

There are many reasons for churches to change the software they use to track membership and financial records. Software companies can go out of business, or their views of technology trends may not match the church’s views. Also, changes in church leadership can have a powerful effect on what software is used. These matters are only some of the reasons churches change their software vendors on occasion.

If a church has been managing its records with any given software, and if that church decides to use a new vendor and new software, it may be a good idea for it to convert its data from the one software to the other, rather than re-entering it all. But is such a conversion a good idea?

Here are a few important things to consider for a church software data conversion:

  1. Exporting and importing the data
  2. Data worth (is the data worth exporting or should we start over?)
  3. Mapping the current database fields to the new database
  4. Software compliance after conversion
  5. Price (can we afford the data conversion?)

1) Exporting and importing the data can stop a data conversion dead in its tracks

The church should really try to export their data from their existing system before shopping around for new software. Why? If you can’t export the data in a usable format to bring into a new system, two big questions are answered. It tells you that you will need to plan for the church staff or volunteers to enter in the data. Also, it will save the church money because there is no cost in the data conversion.

After you successfully export the data, the next question is: Can the new vendor bring it in? Typically, only the software vendor can answer this. We recommend that you send them a sample or the whole “data set” so they can determine if it is possible and give an estimated cost for their work.

2) Data Worth

Is the data worth exporting or should we start over, inputting the data from scratch? Many times, for various reasons, data just is not worth importing.

Some considerations:

  • Maybe the database was neglected for many years or not updated — making the data obsolete.
  • Maybe data has not been well organized.
  • Some organizations must keep records for historical purposes. So while some organizations may not care about records from 1900, others do.

Whatever the case may be, the church is stuck with a decision to make — export the old data or start over. Sometimes starting over, while it sounds like a long process, is actually easier and cleaner depending on the current state that your data set is in.

3) Mapping the current database fields to the new database

This can pose problems when the new database doesn’t have the fields available for all the data. The first decision to make is if you want that data to be imported — in other words, do you still use that information? As time passes, some data becomes obsolete and this is the best time to remove it before it is imported into the new system. Second, if the data is needed, then where should it go into the new system? This is called mapping the data. For example, maybe a household has three different phone numbers. In the old system, each went to an individual member in the household because the system did not have a primary phone number field. The new system may have that primary field and also the ability to save the phone number to each individual member. Would you still put the phone number on each individual and leave the primary blank, or put in a primary phone number from one of the three that are available?

4) Software compliance

After a data conversion, software compliance is essential to a church maintaining their tax exempt status. A data conversion must consider the implications of bringing a data set into a solution that may not have all the required fields that are needed to stay compliant. On membership data, this typically is not an issue, but in contributions and accounting, it could be a problem. For example, if you imported contributions and the “giving dates” were missing for certain records, the contribution statements do not meet IRS guidelines. In accounting, every transaction not only has to be associated to a chart-of-accounts line (e.g. expenditure, revenue, etc.), but also an accounting fund. If the data set does not have both elements, the end result is a system that is not compliant. That’s why many, if not all, church software companies do not import accounting transactions into their solution.

5) Price

Can we afford the data conversion — in addition to the initial cost of the church software? Price is always a concern when coming on board to a new system. The first rule is to ensure that you have a firm data conversion price established from the software vendor. The next thing is to ensure that they know exactly what you want done for that price. Software vendors, many times, will ask to see the data first to give a price estimate and the church needs to be open to this. After all, a mechanic probably wouldn’t give an estimate for fixing a rough running car without seeing it.

As a church, you should compare the data conversion cost closely and realize this is a sunk cost; in other words, if you are not happy with the product in 10 months, you lose this data conversion money. Ensuring that the new product will do what you want is essential first before moving on to it with a data conversion. Quality in data conversions across software vendors really doesn’t play much into the decision. They all know their product and how to convert data in many forms. When the quality is comparable and both products are similar in features that you need, there is not much of a reason to pay $700 to go with one company verses $200 with another.

How will your church approach data conversion?  

Jay Sandt Jay has 20+ years in various technology sectors of industry and currently uses his expertise at Icon Systems, Inc to help churches further their mission. I enjoy my time working with churches and showing them the best ways to implement their ideas.

More from Jay Sandt or visit Jay at http://churchsoftware.iconcmo.com/

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