How to stuff up your fundraising database without even trying

There’s some things that just come in pairs. Salt and Pepper. Kermit & Piggy. Bonnie and Clyde. Van Gogh and Ears…

So it’s not surprising that when you divorce database functionality from process that something feels amiss. While most data monkeys see those two as things as inseparable as Garfield and food, functionally speaking they are often quite separate. Processes naturally come from inside your Organisation while databases – generally – are purchased externally. So it is little wonder that people can have brilliant knowledge of what their database can do yet they remain frustrated with it and aren’t able to utilize it effectively.

If you’re thinking that great words of wisdom about how to avoid this perilous pathway are coming next, you’d be wrong. My analysis of blog stats tells me that serious advice is scorned, while database murder is applauded. So instead I present my top 5 tips for stuffing up your fundraising database without even trying. Here goes.

1. Call it the ‘donor database’

Go on. I dare you.

Refer to the fundraising database in your everyday business as the ‘donor database’ each and everyday.

It won’t be long before your colleagues go feral.

Those really, really, important people who are leaders in your field of choice; who pull the strings in government departments and head up the corporate partnerships division you’ve been hankering to find… they won’t make it into your database because it’s for DONORS. Only people who have gifted funds belong in a donor database – everyone knows that!

Put a person in that database and god forbid that horrible Direct Mail person who eats toenails for breakfast and inbred slugs for morning tea will go and mail your really really important person and ask them for money. So, just don’t put them in the database and you’ll solve the problem.

Alternatively, put them in the database and follow my next tip.

2. Don’t bother defining ‘no mail’

I bet you didn’t know that there’s a famous person who has set up the data definitions in most fundraising databases. That’s right, super famous! Even your 3 year old knows who he is.

It’s Humpty Dumpty.

Want proof? No problem. See Chapter 6; Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There:

When I use a word’, Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’

And such it is with ‘no mail’. When the major gifts person uses it, Humpty meant: ‘mail them invitations and maybe a newsletter without an ask but don’t ask them to donate’. When the Direct Mail person uses it, it means ‘someone meant to reduce the person’s mail and put them on no mail instead’ and when a data monkey uses it, Humpty meant – do not mail this person. That’s it – neither more nor less.

3. Process your membership payments as donations

What harm can a few ill-defined payments do? You can always exclude them based on campaign code.

This is a sure fire way to stuff up your database. These seemingly innocent miscellaneous payments that you forced through the ‘fundraising’ database because the finance department couldn’t cope will distort your active donor count; gifts per donor AND average donation value. What a brilliant strategy – you get to stuff up 3 core measures in one foul swoop!

4. Make groups. Lots of them.

It appears people love to categorise. As chief database stuffer-upperer you need to exploit this! Next time your colleagues get a burning desire to ‘group’ their contacts, donors, prospects etc it is your duty to encourage them. After all, why have something in the database in one way, if you can have two? Instead of settling for a recency, frequency and gift value criteria for identifying people for your next bequest campaign, why not round them all up and put a nice label on it?

Maintaining a group you don’t need isn’t an albatross. I promise.

(To be fair, people often make ‘groups’, ‘lists’, ‘codes’ for things which already exist in another form because the tools to find them are lacking. I have to admit to creating a few ‘groups’ myself recently. I tell myself that I’ve only gone to the darkside as a temporary measure. When I get rid of Barry – the bloody useless database – and get a decent query tool, my database will be cleansed of such duplication. Or so I tell myself daily.)

5. Don’t monitor your data.

If you look at your data and question who put certain information in the database and why, trust me, you’ll be cast as the ‘data police’.People who actually look at the percentage of cases where information has been completed; patterns of entry by data entry person; or where those strange campaign codes came from are people who are just pernickety. They aren’t doing it out of any interest in the quality of your data; or the efficiency of your business: they do it because they love to point the finger.

So spare yourself the grief. NEVER – no, NOT EVER – monitor data entry. You will be rewarded with junk you’ve not even had the pleasure of setting eyes on. Who could resist?


Posted on June 28, 2011, in Data, Direct Mail, Fundraising, Not for Profit and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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