“Our database is a mess.”

Does this sound familiar? How about,

“We invested in this great database software, but nobody keeps it up to date.”

A database can be your fundraising friend, but only if you manage it.

Last week I attended a breakout session at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits annual conference, called Turning Data Dust into Fundraising Gold. The presenters, Tricia Pekarna and Jesse Stremcha of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, spoke from their experience on getting a database in order, and then using data – and database software tools – to uncover opportunities and increase productivity.

A few points worth sharing:

  • A checklist is helpful for maintaining your database, regularly cleaning and “backfilling” as the facilitators put it – adding missing/additional info. (Hint: check out thedatabank’s data services for good prices on email append and the new Profile+ enhancement.)
  • How do you overcome barriers to sharing data within your organization? Frame the argument for clean, consolidated data in terms of results, not data for data’s sake. Prove the value.
  • When automating a process, have a human review it until you are confident it is running correctly. Then, automate and use your time and brainpower for other things.
  • For Children’s of Minnesota, the next frontier includes marking milestones, such as a person’s tenth gift, or a lifetime total. They are also exploring ways to recognize supporters, through new media like these social badges.
  • Use reports that are easy to understand, and call attention to important information – including information that is missing.

There was lots more in the presentation, but the most salient point for me was the one expressed in the cartoon (I’ve copied it over from their presentation, but am not able to attribute properly – help me out in the comments, folks).

To put it another way – When it comes to data collection, Less is More.