Liz Rejman, CFRE
Let’s face it: most people would much rather be meeting with donors than updating contact information in the database. Very few people jump at the chance to review data protocols and establish coding. Data management can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming.
However, poor data management costs your organization time and money. When properly managed, data can improve customer service, operational efficiency and assist in informed decision making within an organization.
Here’s the secret to inspiring a love for data and data management: it isn’t the data itself that is compelling. It’s the story it tells. Do you know what your data is telling you?
In order for your data to tell you an accurate story of your organization, there are three things to consider.
You need to know why the story is important.
Why do you need the data? What will it be used for? Do you send customized documents and letters to your donors? Do you track and report specific metrics for your board members? How do you measure success within a campaign or in your performance reviews? In all of these instances, data helps to tell the story of your past successes.
Data should be telling stories, but not secrets. Just as data will help tell a great story; it shouldn’t jeopardize donor trust while doing so. Don’t collect data for the sake of collecting it. Give serious consideration as to why you want to collect data and what will be its use.
For example, when I work with fundraisers to establish reports, I always ask them to share their vision of what the report will look like (and in some cases, I will even ask for a mock-up of the report). I want to know:
- What is the purpose of the report?
- What is it measuring?
- Who will see it? How often will they see it?
- How detailed does the information need to be?
Knowing what the end result will be helps determine what pieces of data are needed, who needs to be collecting and maintaining that data and how often it needs to be reviewed.
You need to have your data talk in a consistent language.
The first thing I learned about database management and reporting was “garbage in, garbage out.” If you data isn’t consistent in both where and how it is entered, the story will always be inaccurate. This is where you can get your database to work for you – take advantage of drop-down menus and checkboxes for consistent formatting. Text boxes have their place, but know that if there are multiple ways to spell a word or format a phrase, it will be spelled and formatted in every way conceivable.
You need to ensure that everyone can add to the data conversation.
If the data isn’t in the database, it doesn’t exist and it won’t be part of the story. You need to make it easy to add data to the database. Data entry protocols that are too complex won’t be adopted or remembered. If a particular data entry protocol can’t be mastered in a 10 minute training session, it’s too complicated. And if a piece of data needs to be coded in multiple places, there better be a really good reason why.
Data can tell you where you’re at, help you establish trends and patterns and assist in making informed decisions. It can tell the story of your past, present and even predict some of the future. But you need to help it talk to you. So the next time the topic of database management comes up, don’t be afraid to say “talk data to me.”
Liz Rejman, CFRE has spent her entire career in the nonprofit sector bringing her dynamic expertise to health care, education and the arts, with a focus on database management and prospect research. She recently transitioned from full time researcher at a large hospital foundation to Head of Development and one person fundraiser for Museum London (Canada). Follow her on Twitter, @erejman or visit her blog.