How To Overcome Incompetent Database Management
My rant for the week is…Incompetent Database Management. Everyone hates doing it. But everyone expects their database to be perfect when they want to use it for letters and emails to make money.
Nonprofit donor databases are the worst. Here’s the email I got from one of my clients who is trying to help one of his special causes that set off my rant:
“‘X Day School’ is stuck in the mud with fundraising and interactive communication. They use a program called ‘X Donor Software.’ It’s a mess. They can’t afford a full bells and whistles fundraising database. So, I’m thinking, call Lori.” [Names changed to protect the guilty.]
Almost every nonprofit in the world has a screwed up database. But it’s not the software. It’s the users. Typically organizations have lots of turnover. Because everyone hates database management, the job gets delegated to the lowest level (usually) volunteer. No one shows them how to use the software properly. Which doesn’t matter, because the nonprofit has never adopted a proper workflow anyway. The volunteer has to get the job done, so he improvises. Then that volunteer leaves. The replacement comes in and everything starts over again. So over time, the organization is…stuck in the mud. No money to fix the problem, and no time to prevent the problem.
Nothing changes until the leadership realizes their database–their financial lifeblood–is the single most important asset they own. That means putting a paid, stable Database Administrator (please note capital letters–this is a real job) in charge and equpping them with the training to do their job properly.
To fix stuck-in-the-mud databases that appear beyond redemption is this:
- See if the data can be exported in a spreadsheet-like format.
- Form a “database committee,” and have everyone go thru the information record by record. (Torture.)
- Pay someone to update ‘X Software’ with those changes. (If you don’t pay, and appoint a volunteer instead, this project will never be finished.)
- Get the ‘X Software’ trainer out to show the designated Database Administrator how to add new contacts to the database, track the donations, code the donors properly (volunteer, board member, RFM segment, etc.) and how to do queries the right way for direct mail letters or email appeals.
All contact management software has limitations. But if an organization has already paid for CRM software, they should try to make it work–the right way. If an organization is trying to run off spreadsheets or Outlook address books, my recommendation is to get ACT! Software. It’s the least expensive, most user-friendly contact management software. There are so many ACT! users (over 3 million worldwide) that it’s easy to find help and support to make it work and keep it maintained.
The unfortunate truth is that no one values their data until it starts costing them money. Don’t be an X.