How Well Do You Know Your Database?

Every organization I’ve worked for has always had a hard time using their database to capture donor information and keeping it up-to-date. Many will say this is because they don’t have the staffing to properly update the database. But I think that most often staff just don’t understand how it works. Every organization should make sure that they are training their new employees as to where donor information lives in their system. Most databases have multiple ways you can record and keep information and I’ve found that organizations hardly ever do everything the same way.

Take 30 minutes with your staff and help them understand how to update a donor record and where to input key information. You don’t have to be experts at managing databases, or using the prospect tab in Raiser’s Edge to create a valuable database. The biggest obstacle to using your database proficiently is understanding how to use it. If you have a database staff person, ask them to give you a quarterly or annual training on how to use your database.

Every organization has inconsistencies in how they input data. Your database person has a specific style they feel fits with your organization. It can be a huge struggle for that individual to keep track of donor information if each staff member is inputting differently into the system.

Do you have any tricks to keep information consistent in your organization? Is this an area you have felt immobilized by for a long time?


4 Responses to How Well Do You Know Your Database?

  1. Leanne says:

    In addition to trainings, I’d add including the impact of not having a well organized database to your employees and coworkers. When I was trying to learn how others in my last organization used the database (if at all!), I was able to see that the way each person input information was colored by the job they performed.

    So, if the administrator needed to run the numbers, that’s what they’d focus on. If the administrative assistant needed to send out mailings, they made sure the name and address was correct. The president needed to know the donor’s history and would record copious notes.

    Unfortunately, as you alluded to, Jason, none of this information was put in the same place. Once I realized that, I then started the challenging work of educating them individually and during staff meetings about the importance of maintaining a good database.

    It was only when I began to tie this to their own jobs first and then show how lack of information was actually leading to loss of donor engagement (which led to loss of revenue and partnership) were they willing to consider something new.

    It wasn’t easy, but in the end, I think it made all the difference to their sense of buy-in. Otherwise, they would have thought it was just another request from the the development department that really had little impact on their daily work.

  2. Good post Jason. At Donor Tools we often get organizations that need more then an online donor management product, they are really looking at creating a business process that effects most of the organization’s staff.

    I always tell people to design the process based on outcomes such as acknowledgements and thank you letters sent in 24 hours or check entered into the system and deposited the same day. These outcomes should eventually be written down and the process written up to make it consistent.

    Having a regular meeting about the database and or how to make it better is also a good idea. Some organizations have us do custom 30 minute webinars with their staff to go over their workflow or to get new staff acquainted to the product. Most of the software providers should be able to do this with some level of guidance.

    One of our core beliefs is usability. You should focus on your mission, not just technology. So keep it simple.

  3. Janice Chan says:

    Leanne, I like the idea of tying the database to each person’s job responsibilities to show why it is relevant to them. Any other advice on how to articulate the importance of maintaining a good database to senior staff who believe they are too busy to learn or update anything, think it’s easier to keep all their notes in their own separate spreadsheets, think the program is too difficult, etc? It seems to me that it is only important to anybody else when they need information or if something is incorrect. I am essentially the donor database manager and right now the only way that other people use it is to occasionally look up an address or phone number.

  4. […] previous post: How Well Do You Know Your Database? | // Earlier this week I talked about the importance of knowing where to put donor information in your database. Today I want to talk about what information I’ve found to be the most inconsistent and, by keeping that data relevant, how much more powerful your database can be. […]

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