For the love of flares
There’s an illness which appears to be relatively common in the not for profit data world. It infects fundraisers and service providers alike. It’s called bucketitis.
Let me explain with an example that has little to do with fundraising or the provision of services. Instead, let’s talk bad fashion.
Imagine you run a business which hosts fancy dress parties. You have a database full of people who love to dress up and attend these raves (each to their own I say!). Party night arrives and you do a little data collection – census collection for party goers if you like. There are girls dressed with headbands, shapeless short dresses covered with fringe and beads. There are some guys in brown and white robes, sporting beards and trying their best to look like Ewan McGregor (but nowhere near as cute). Lastly there’s a pack of people in flares complemented with orange and brown shirts.
Now, what happens next depends on whether you are infected with bucketitis.
A non-infected person would be content with their data gathering and leave their database full of flares, dropped waistlines and people wanting to learn more about the force.
An infected person, rounds up records from the night in question and creates 3 buckets: flappers, Jedi Knights and Seventies junkies.
You may well ask what’s wrong with that? Well here are 2 reasons why I think you should fight outbreaks of bucketitis.
1) Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
Okay, I exaggerate. Tomorrow you won’t be dead; you’ll just have data that’s one day old. That’s not really an issue if you’re planning on getting your Charleston ball flyers out in the next week. (Now’s the time to be honest and ask what’s the likelihood of something happening that quickly in the not for profit world?)
So a few months go by. There’s a few more parties here and there and you’re ready to mail the next round of invitations. You delve into your database and locate the ‘bucket’ of Abba loving disco dudes for your next event. Chances are some of your eventers have been Bjorn Again (sorry, couldn’t resist) and attended a few more parties this time as pirates or dalmatians. Your flappers have become flamingoes and Jedi’s turned to juniper berries. Yet you’re stuck with the bucket you made 3 months ago. You either send them the Super Trooper pitch and hope they are still Abba fans at heart, or review your bucket and update your data.
This is what I have against buckets. Maintenance. If the data items which make people belong to a bucket are already in your database, a bucket is UNNECESSARY WORK.
On to reason 2…
2) Regenerating the doctor
Who can put their hand on their heart and tell me that their buckets NEVER vary in their purpose or definition? My favourite one for this is ‘major donor’. This group of highly desirable supporters, regenerate enough to put Doctor Who to shame. Last week, there was only a dollar criteria on the major donor bucket. This week, we need to toss that bucket and make a new one because connection and long-term support is now in the frame as well as donations given.
In short, my second reason for bucket dislike is that they aren’t flexible enough to keep pace with your business needs.
So why if buckets are so terrible are they in such abundance? I’m sure your database calls them something a little more sophisticated than ‘buckets’. You might have profiles, groups, static lists, attributes, categories or hmm… ‘custom fields’.
I think software developers have created these functions in response to a real need. Trouble is that we have gone beyond that need. Instead of using their flexible tools in our databases to document and capture data elements, we go one step further and create buckets. If you can capture ‘weighs 100kg’ that’s fantastic. STOP THERE. Record it as ‘overweight’ and sure as eggs your new clinical director will have a different methodology and re-classification here we come!
While that’s the end of my data rant, I just have to share with you a little anecdote I found in preparing this blog post. Fumbling around for some costume terms I flicked through one of my fashion books and discovered this fact: In 1925 with the short skirts all the rage, clergy across the globe denounced this scandalous new fashion trend. My favourite is from the Archbishop of Naples who apparently ‘went so far as to announce that the recent earthquake at Amalfi was due to the anger of God against a skirt which reached no further than the knee.’ Oh dear. I’m glad that Archbishop was probably dead before the rise of the mini skirt.
[References: Costume and Fashion, A Concise History by James Laver, p 232)
Posted on August 8, 2011, in Allied health, Data, Fundraising, Major Donors, Not for Profit and tagged buckets, data, database issues, flapper, flares, garbage in garbage out, GIGO. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.