Some would argue that we have too many managers in our sector and not enough leaders.
Of course, a successful nonprofit organization absolutely needs to have both.
Readers of Rich TIPS know that we consistently coach you to think more strategically, maintaining a long-term focus on goals, not just tactics. That said, even the most ambitious strategic perspective for your organization can fall short if you lack the proper nuts and bolts “under the hood.” There is probably no better example of this challenge than with smaller nonprofits who seek to expand their fundraising but have either weak data management or no database at all. Other organizations believe their fundraising woes will be solved by simply acquiring a new database.
This week’s TIP addresses considerations about selecting the right database for your nonprofit. Our special thanks for this content go to Eric Hozempa, our good friend and former RMA colleague who is now the CEO of the Longmont Community Foundation. Eric is a premier fundraising talent and a real gift to Colorado’s nonprofit community.
1. DO think first of who–not just what. Determine who will enter data into the database and develop some rules and procedures for entering data. If you put garbage into your database, you’ll get garbage out. Think about who will be responsible for managing the information over the long term before you decide today on which database to use.
2. DON’T confuse unique with useful. Be wary of creating a custom database specifically for your organization. It’s great to have an enthusiastic volunteer who desires to contribute by creating a customized database for you, but before you take the plunge you need to get a sense of the volunteer’s expertise with creating databases and their access once the database has been launched. Will this person provide you support and training on the custom database?
3. DO talk to colleagues. Speak to other nonprofits on what system they use and would recommend. Be careful to speak to a range of nonprofits according to budget size. Your small organization might not need a database used by a large institution–or be in the position to afford it.
4. DON’T overbuy. Think carefully about what you need to do with a database and select the right one for your needs. If all you are looking to do is track basic information you shouldn’t invest in the “Cadillac” of databases at this point.
5. DO ask about training, especially the fine-print details on costs. Some databases come with really low price tags but you might incur additional fees for training and support. Look at the contract details carefully and ask questions.
6. DO consider how easy a system is to learn. Look at the ease of generating reports and mailing lists from any database you are considering. Can you easily run a mailing list? Can staff members and volunteers easily learn how to enter data? Will it be easy to extract information from the database?
7. DO take a test drive by looking at existing free database templates. For example, there are donor database templates for MS Access on Microsoft’s website. Some of these might be limited, but depending on the size of your organization they might work as a short term fix until your organization is in a better position to purchase a database.
8. DON’T forget to involve staff and volunteers in the decision. It’s important to involve those who will be handling the data in the decision of selecting your database. You will have fewer problems if they are involved early and can ask questions along the way.
9. DO take your time. A database can be a substantial purchase, so do your due diligence before leaping to a decision.
10. DO make sure that you have a strategic approach in place for the use and especially the maintenance of the data. Buying a database for its potential to expand your fundraising is not unlike buying a health club membership for its potential to enhance your fitness. In both cases, nothing happens until you add your consistent, ongoing commitment.