Is It Time for a Check-up?
In every nonprofit’s life, there comes a time when questions arise about the general health of its database.
This could come as a result of a new initiative to push the organization ahead. It could stem from a mandate to raise additional funds within a certain period of time. It could be a desire to increase brand awareness among donors and prospects. Or perhaps the organization has recognized the need to identify, communicate and track its audiences’ activities.
In any case, your database will play a key role in enabling your organization to effectively monitor activities, better solicit funds and reach intended goals.
That said, is your database system — and your data itself — strong enough to deliver just what you need to move your charity ahead?
Many organizations believe that once the database is built, the system is on auto-pilot. In fact, you should be checking your database and its contents on an annual basis to make sure it’s tuned just right. Let’s examine the state of your database by asking some critical questions.
1. What is your nonprofit’s “business”?
What is your primary mission? What types of activities are conducted on a regular, irregular or one-time basis? How do you construct your fundraising activities? Do you hold events? Do you issue tickets for those events? Do you have an online community of users? Does your organization publish a magazine or newsletter? Do you offer a catalog of products? What is the extent and depth of your direct-mail operations?
Begin your analysis by making sure your current database system meets your current day-to-day operating needs.
2. What does your organization want to do?
Take a step back to assess your business overall. Quite simply, what do you do and how do you do it? How is your organization changing in terms of its fundraising objectives, needs and future programs? These changes might indicate that you have outgrown your existing systems, data needs and reporting requirements. Modifications, overhauls and enhancements might be in order.
3. Where is the information to drive your organization?
Is your data shared or is it separated by department in silos? Has anyone ever taken an inventory of your organization’s data needs? Is there a central database or data warehouse in place now? Are you collecting data from all areas of operation, including your various departments, chapters and volunteers?
Check to see if you have missing pieces of information scattered throughout your operation. A healthy database environment should have all the needed data in one central location acting as the data warehouse — the heart of the organization.
4. How much data do you have?
In most cases, a multitude of databases exist simultaneously and are scattered throughout the organization. These run the gamut from off-the-shelf software to custom-built fundraising systems, to assorted data in other departments and from information stored in shoeboxes, closets, desk drawers and Excel spreadsheets, to data collected by your chapters throughout the country.
All said, how much data do you have? How many records? Take a tally of your total data “discovery” and check this against your current database system. Approximately how many people have participated in your programs since its beginnings? Where are these early records stored? Have they ever been amalgamated? Have they ever been examined and cleaned?
5. How good is your data?
The ability to assess and access your data is key. Is your organization able to capture all information collected from its full range of activities (mail, phone, personal contacts, e-mail and Web) for inclusion in a centralized database system? If you’re already doing this, just how accurate is your data?
Taking an inventory of your information involves running a data audit. Pull off the first thousand records in your database. Look for duplicate names and addresses, remove incorrect addresses, and standardize your rules for data capture.
If you see major problems, it’s time to run a complete audit on your file. This can be done using an outside vendor or by purchasing audit software.
6. What can’t you do with your current database system?
Is your current system delivering the goods you need to measure, analyze and create new fundraising initiatives? Does your system allow you to work in a marketing-database environment, produce campaign analysis reports and generate other key indicator reports to benchmark each program?
If your staff and volunteers are going outside your current systems to meet their daily, weekly, monthly or annual reporting needs, this is a clear indicator that your database needs repair.
It also could be an indicator that the system is too slow or cumbersome to use. Check on this by asking the main users of your database information. They won’t be shy in articulating the problems and challenges they see in the system.
7. How well do you monitor your donor and prospecting universe?
It is imperative for nonprofits that want to improve targeting, tracking and servicing of membership activities and programs to access their entire “stock” of donor names.
Just how many names do you have on file right now? Where are these names housed? Have you incorporated your online names? In looking at your organization’s total universe, have you taken into account all the various storage areas and contact points throughout your organization?
Think beyond the standard records maintained by your fundraising and marketing departments. Don’t forget to include pertinent information from customer service, personal contacts, volunteer records and general inquiries.
8. Is your initial database plan still working?
An overall database strategy, data review and database-update process should be evaluated regularly to ensure that your nonprofit meets its goals.
How effectively have you utilized the database for segmentation, modeling and profiling? It’s important to continue to develop tools that deliver an improved database environment, including data audits, campaign management, donor-interaction management and data-mining systems.
Set up front-end access tools, reporting systems and dashboards to monitor your charity’s performance. The addition of these benchmark reports will push your charity’s fundraising efforts far ahead.
Pegg Nadler is principal of Pegg Nadler Associates Inc., a New York-based database-marketing consultancy. She also is chair of the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation. She can be reached at email@example.com.