If someone has little experience with databases, they may eye them with uncertainty. Connecting a future donor with a matching major gift officer, tracking every piece of precious contact information available, or seamlessly uploading donations may seem magical. Your database is a tool, though, not a magic wand. It takes a lot of hard work (blood, sweat, and tears probable) to get it into working order. Once you’ve put in that work, and wiped the sweat from your brow and tears from your eyes, your database should make your life much easier. Read these five tips to ensure you are getting the most out of your organization’s database:
1. Keep it Simple
Your database should be easy to use. In theory, a database allows you to perform many tasks automatically and frees employees to do other necessary tasks. In practice, you need to ensure your database is actually saving you time. A sound check for database efficiency is to examine an “automatic” process. If it’s taking your employee longer to fix or complete that “automatic” report than to do it manually, something is amiss. If you can’t make your organization’s database processes clear and straightforward, it might be time to revisit your workflows.
2. Make it AccessibleOnce your database is up and running, all team members should have at least a basic handle on how to access important information. For this to happen, three things need to be true:
- Your organization gives proper database training to all development professionals on your team, not just the database staff.
- If you use multiple databases, you must reimagine your process and get everything in one cohesive data ecosystem.
- If anyone on your team uses spreadsheets to keep track of data, refer back to #2.
3. Assign a Designated Database Lead, but Don’t Leave Them on an Island
Ensure you have assigned a specific staff member to lead database-related items. Otherwise, you run the risk of your database collecting dust as your team constantly says they’ll get around to appointing a database person tomorrow.
On the flip side, as we mentioned above, all staff should have a working understanding of your database so that your specifically assigned database staff member doesn’t break under the weight of the responsibilities. Plus, that database staff member should be allowed to take a vacation now and then, and how can they if only they know the secrets of the database?
4. Learn the Importance of Reports
Train everyone at your organization well enough that running reports is quick and easy. In a short amount of time, you should be able to pull a list organized by donation amount, geographic location, and gift date, among other things, for the CEO or president of your organization to assess. If your team isn’t able to pull detailed reports, it's time to train them to do just that.
5. If All Else Fails, Update the Database
Sometimes, more than the status quo is needed. If you have been struggling with inputting data or pulling reports, it’s time to take a step back. Do simple reports take you longer than half an hour? You should probably reexamine the database you are using and find one that better fits the needs of your organization.
As we said before, databases are a necessary tool. Once you know how to use them correctly, you’ll further your mission one data entry at a time.