Hands Off ... It's My Data!
A charitable organization has many stakeholders to communicate with and to nurture. Be they donors, advocates, service users, media, members or volunteers, you need to keep tabs on them all. But like in all organizations, each department has unique needs when it comes to what information they need to store in the database about their stakeholders, so it seems reasonable to assume that you would have a separate database for each department — tailored to its needs. Until you realize that, actually, some people begin to appear in multiple databases. A donor can also be a volunteer, a member and even a service user.
That’s where it all starts to go wrong. A significant amount of information about a person is common across all databases —for example, the name, address and contact details. Yet a person’s address is updated in one database but not the others. Each department sends out its own communications independently, a silo mentality develops and notions of ownership take hold.
The natural conclusion then is that one database for the whole organization — that crucially meets the specific needs of each department — is the best way to go. And in the case of the fundraisers that responded to the recent Lehman survey of fundraising databases, that’s where most people are. The report shows that 71 percent of respondents stated that they used an organizationwide database, which is interesting because almost 80 percent said that they thought a dedicated, fundraising-specific database software would have greater capabilities.
So it seems that fundraising departments at least are seeing that a single database is for the greater good over departmental needs. Furthermore, the costs of having two databases outweigh the benefits: The report shows that the greatest challenges of separate systems are passing data between the systems to keep them up-to-date, or worse, re-keying that information. So most don’t. And if they don’t how, will they ever get the 360-degree view of each donor they were promised?
Another interesting finding of the report is that despite being ranked as reasonably important, most people are less than satisfied with the online capabilities of their fundraising software, specifically in the areas of being able to offer personal fundraising pages, the ability to mix donations in with their e-commerce activities and constituent self-service options.
The solution to this also has its root in the organizationwide database question. Imagine you’re a consumer visiting a charity website for the first time. You go to the online store and buy some Christmas cards, for which you need to register. You then want to top up your purchase with a donation, but in order to do that, you have to register as a donor (in the organization’s separate fundraising database) as well. Apart from inconveniencing the customer/donor, it somehow gives a clue that this charity may not be running as efficiently as it could — two registrations for a simple transaction.
So here’s the challenge if you’re running a separate fundraising database: Ask whether your donors and your organization might be better served by an integrated solution.
Robin Fisk is the global fundraising product manager for Advanced Solutions International (ASI), the largest, privately owned global provider of Web-based software for member- and donor-based not-for-profits. ASI is the developer of iMIS, an upgradeable software solution for managing associations, membership, not-for-profits and fundraising.