Five Steps to Incrementally Strengthen Your Database

Five Steps to Incrementally Strengthen Your Database

Five Steps to Incrementally Strengthen Your Database

In a recent meeting someone said, “I’ve never met a nonprofit employee who likes their database”. While this statement will be disheartening to any readers who develop databases, most nonprofit-oriented readers might find themselves nodding vigorously.

Databases can be challenging. Nonprofit organizations have to balance functionality, staff and volunteer usability, and price when evaluating what database is best for them. Many nonprofit employees may not even have the institutional memory of why a particular database is being used. “It’s what we were using when I got here” is a common refrain.

While your database will never be perfect, you can take small steps to improve it over time. Below are a few tips to improve your functionality.

Set up an improvement schedule

Sit down with your core team that uses your database and brainstorm the four key issues that you would collectively like to fix or adjust. These can be major challenges or minor inconveniences. After determining the four issues you want to fix – schedule one for each quarter in the year and assign someone to lead each project. The idea of changing everything quickly is overwhelming. By setting a realistic timeline of one major improvement per quarter you’ll have a better chance of succeeding.

How do you want to segment your email?

We  discussed email segmentation last week. Determining how you want to segment your future email messages can help drive improvement in your database. It provides you the opportunity to prioritize fields and track the most relevant information. For example, if you plan on sending different email content to your audience group based on their profession, work with your database users to ensure they’re prioritizing title or profession as a data capture point.

Determine what you need your database to sync with

Most small and mid-sized nonprofits don’t have a database that syncs with all of their different programs. If you want to connect your database to your online donation system, email platform, or direct mail program, you should decide which of these is most important. If online donations are critical to your work invest in a database and online donation platform that connect. If your organization focuses on advocacy-related actions than you should focus energy on your email provider.

Prioritize contact information

We all know that quality contact information is critical to retaining constituents and donors. It’s important to ensure that you have more than one method of communication included. If you only have an individual’s work email address and phone number and they leave their organization you’ll lose the ability to reach that volunteer. Any method to capture both work and personal email, phone, or address should be utilized and captured in your database.

Maintain an open door and forgive mistakes

One of the primary reasons that databases fail is that employees and volunteers don’t use them enough. Often this is due to time constraints. Human error or lack of knowledge is also a key culprit. Staff and volunteers that struggle with a database will often abandon it or try to find work-arounds that hurt data quality. It is critical that nonprofit leaders cultivate an internal culture that allows staff and volunteers to ask questions – even the most basic and silly ones. Database users who are scared to ask for help will cause short-term and long-term issues.

These steps will help you get on a path to database improvement. Below are a few links from the week that we found interesting. If you’re worried about the links that didn’t make the cut, don’t fear – you can find them on our Tumblr.

  1. StayClassy discusses the challenges with integrating millennial supporters into direct marketing campaigns and better opportunities to engage them.
  2. Fundraising can be defined by equations. This #fundchat blog from Beth Ann Locke examines these equations and questions to consider.
  3. Social Media Examiner details options for you to retarget content on Facebook for specific audiences.
  4. Facebook is increasing video content by adding recommendations after your video is complete. Mashable provides the details.
  5. NPQ shares the frightening details about how Detroit’s bankruptcy is going to affect nonprofits.
1 Comment
  • Thanks for the mention! I actually really enjoy the database… it keeps all the things we know about the donors and sometimes reveal things we didn’t know. But keeping it “clean” can be difficult. Thanks for your post!


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