We’ve all heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”, right? We use it often in exasperation to explain why records in organizations’ donor databases (Relationship Management software) are in disarray and why we can’t seem to achieve any meaningful evaluation of data.
The frustration may come in the form of not having salutations or titles when we want to export a mailing list to send an annual appeal. It may come in the form of having four records to represent one household, because each person that entered data over the last five years entered it differently. There are a number of other areas for possible database stumbles, but I’ve found that one of the biggest pieces missing in successful database management is the use (or lack of use) of campaigns, appeals, and funds.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to dive down a rabbit hole of negativity and just complain about broken databases! Instead, we’re going to look at steps we can take to fix things.
Two words are important to improving the usefulness of our donor databases: planning and mapping.
Too often, organizations are short staffed and we feel lucky to have anyone entering gift and donor information at all. We congratulate ourselves for getting gift acknowledgement letters out. But to achieve a level where our databases are not used as glorified excel spreadsheets, we need to proactively plan and implement a process, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), and/or standardized method of data entry.
We need to define the steps to take to achieve certain ends. And to define the steps, we must first identify what our goals are. We need to know where we want to go and what we want to achieve before we can determine what steps we can logically take to get us there.
This is where planning and mapping comes in. To deal with the first two issues we mentioned, lack of titles and salutations, and no standard of recognizing households (resulting in more than one record per household), the key is to sit down with all of the people who have a stake in how things are done, and to define a process.
Whether you decide one specific gender is always the head of the house in your records, or that the person who gives the first gift or who has the most interaction with your organization is the head of the household is up to your organization. What you decide doesn’t matter as much as documenting the decision, making plans and scheduling time for database cleanup, then consistently adhering to the new way of data entry. It may be worth a conversation with technical support at your software provider to hear about best practices and then to determine the quickest and most effective way to update records. Unfortunately, many problems that are created in databases over time can only be fixed with manual data entry. Your organization must commit to making it happen if it wants a solid infrastructure in place on which donor relationships can rely.
When it comes to the other issue mentioned above, the use of campaigns, appeals, and funds, it is, again, important to create a map of how your organization will consistently use them.
Wouldn’t it be great to know which month’s direct mail pieces consistently outperform? Or to be able to track which method of appealing (direct mail, email blasts, in person asks, etc.) has the highest rate of return? To do this effectively, campaigns, appeals, and funds must not only be entered in the database, but must be consistently used over time. This is the way you will be able to get accurate year to year comparison data. Starting now to use campaigns, appeals, and funds will create a benchmark against which you can compare future years’ data.
Mapping campaigns, appeals, and funds will probably take a bit of brainstorming with a team of stakeholders. You may have to talk it out until everyone agrees on what system to use. Here are quick definitions that will hopefully help:
Campaign= the overall umbrella of what you are trying to raise money for. An example is the “Annual Campaign”
Appeal= the vehicles you use to make the ask for gifts to the above mentioned campaign. Examples would be “July 2014 e-Newsletter Ask” or “November 2014 end of year direct mail piece”. You are likely to have a number of appeals for each campaign.
Fund= where the money is going. Does the gift go the general, unrestricted “pot” of money, or is there a specific restriction to it, like scholarships or a certain program?
If it helps, draw a flow chart of what your organization will consider a campaign, an appeal, and a fund. This will also help you plan out your specific fundraising activity calendar for the year!
These are just a few of the ways you can standardize data entry at your organization and make your donor management system a more useful tool. In later blog posts, we’ll touch on using the notes, moves management, and task-planning functions that most databases offer.
As with many other parts to fundraising, it is often our job as fundraisers to educate the rest of our team/staff about the good that can come from using the tools at our disposal to their fullest. Now get going and make sure you aren’t putting “garbage in” to your database!