Category Archives: Allied health

A is for apple and f is for phoneme

You know that you’ve been hanging around Auditory Verbal Therapists too much when you start to think the start up sound your Apple Mac makes is the Ling sound oo.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – don’t be alarmed. Six months ago I’d never heard of a the 6 Ling sounds and the word phoneme brought very hazy memories of something someone may have said when I was at school. Now word counts, grammatical features and phonological processing are invading my dreams. As one colleague said to me recently, ‘you mean nightmares don’t you?’

It’s the age old question. How much about a topic do you need to understand to build a data solution for it?

I remember going on an SPSS course years ago and there were participants concerned they didn’t understand enough stats. The lecturer replied with a comparison to watches – you don’t need to know how all the parts inside work in order to tell the time.

As far as subject knowledge goes, I tend to be a person who seems to need more rather than less, in order to come up with a data solution. However I draw the line at vowel formants. To start with, it sounds like cake icing. Not just any icing either. That hideous hard white stuff that coats fruit cakes – fondant. Secondly, the drawn diagram of 1st and 2nd vowel formants reminds me of ‘how to play the recorder’ diagrams for some reason… and we all know how scarred most people are from childhood recorder lessons!

While I seem to have some obsession with turning speech pathology ‘lingo’ into food related items (fricative to fricassee and formant to fondant), it amazes me how people who are talking about the English language, can sound like they are talking another language entirely! This is probably because I am in that missing generation who didn’t learn grammar formally while at school. I’m not sure whether this was just a NSW thing, or Australia-wide but my generation seems to have missed out on the thrill of being able to correctly name grammatical features – irregular past tense, negatives, prepositions, possessives and so on. What we did learn, it turns out, is wrong. All my life I’ve been under the impression there are 5 vowels in the English language when there are really 12. Actually, don’t quote me on that. It may have been 12 formants… or fondants. Yes, 12 fruit cakes. Hmmm… fruit cake = me at the end of this project.


Would you like preformatives with that?

I had a conversation with my dad last night which went something like this.

Dad: ‘How’s work?’

Me: ‘Busy. Tiring. Interesting. I went to watch a language assessment for a child; I’m going to a preschool on Friday and next week I’m observing some more auditory-verbal therapy sessions to understand audition better.’

Dad: ‘What’s that got to do with databases?’

Me: ‘Good question!’


At the moment I’m in ‘sponge mode’, soaking up information left, right and centre regarding services in order to understand how best people may be supported by a clinical database. There are days I’m sure that I’ve been teleported to another universe. In this land, people use words like ‘phonemes’, ‘suprasegmentals’ and ‘spondees’ in everyday language. They seem obsessed with auditory hierarchies, feedback loops and access to sound. This is all before they start with their speechie language re: fronting and gliding. (If I didn’t know better, I’d think that sounded very suspicious indeed!)

All these terms resulted in a funny exchange between myself and two very experienced auditory verbal therapists today. It went something like this…

Me: ‘I learnt that stuff yesterday – manner, place and voice… yes it’s easier to hear the difference between two words where they are differ in all three… maximally different…’

AVT1 to AVT2: ‘See, she’s getting it. And we talked about bilabial sounds…’

Me: [making sounds] – ‘p, p, p, b, b, b…’

AVT2: ‘Well I think the students coming today are well past manner, place and voice.’

Me: ‘I learnt some other terms too! 4 item auditory memory… and fricassees…’

AVT1: [Confused look].


AVT1: ‘I think that’s something you cook.’

Humpfh… minor technicality! Apparently, the word I was looking for was fricative, which, AVT2 promptly explained could be put together with bilabial to make a ‘fricative bilabial’… or at least that’s what I think she said… followed by a breathy demonstration.

Oh for a fundraising database. Donation. GST applicable. Gift in Kind. Merchandise. Hmmm…. understandable!

Dogs, cats and surveys

One day I won’t have to write client satisfaction surveys for people. I think working at a dog and cat shelter would be easier. ‘Are you satisfied with the service fido?’ ‘Woof.’ imagine how easy results collating would be… ‘of the canine cohort 97% agreed they were satisfied and the remaining 3% ate the survey form. In the feline cohort, 70% refused to participate, 20% were satisfied, 5% put a hairball on the form and 5% were hiding under the bed.’ But seriously for a moment, how much easier would survey writing be when expecting a bark or no bark response? Gone would be the discussion about Likert scales. If you used them, you’d most certainly opt for the 5 point agreement scale over a 7 or 9 point scale. You wouldn’t have a debate about ‘agree acquiesce’ because you know that a cat is not likely to acquiesce!

Writing surveys is not an easy task. Here’s a few things I’ve learn over the years.

• Before you start, is a survey what you really need?
• Keep it short!
• If you are asking numerous ‘free text response’ questions, ask yourself again whether a survey is the right tool!
• On your general satisfaction question always follow with a question like ‘why do you say that?’ Don’t just do this for those who are dissatisfied, include everyone. I recommend this to any not for profit because I’ve found people are grateful for the service and therefore hesitant to be negative. Ive found even those who are satisfied respond to an open question with what they love about the service and what they love a little less.
• when writing each question ask what you would do, if you had that data. If you respond, ‘it’s nice to know’, delete the question now!
• act on your survey responses. I’m surprised how often a not for profit will go to the effort to collect the data and then do nothing until next years survey comes around.
• tell clients the findings of the survey (yes, would seem a no brainer but evidently not…)

Lastly, if it gets all too hard, consult a cat like I did last night. She sat on the survey draft. It didn’t help with the writing, but it made me smile.

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)



The flamingo and the holy grail

A colleague remarked to me the other day: ‘when I read your blog and see stupid marketing examples, I read on to check it’s not something I’ve done.’ To that end, I’ve decided I need a fictitious charity / service Organisation. This way people won’t know whether I’m drawing on past or current experiences, or simply making them up.

So I needed a name for my imaginary Organisation. I considered something serious – momentarily – then opted for the Free The Flamingo Foundation. (In case you had not already guessed from the Tweedledee / Tweedledum references, I do love my Alice in Wonderland.)

So what sort of Organisation is the Free the Flamingo Foundation? Well, it’s a charity that raises money to rescue flamingoes enslaved to the game of croquet by the Queen of Hearts. Once liberated from the bloodthirsty Queen, these beautiful birds receive a multi-displinary service. After all, they need physiotherapy to recover from having their heads used as a croquet mallet; they may need other kinds of medical attention and/or counselling too. After the physical and mental health of these birds has been restored, it’s likely they will need assistance from an employment specialist to help them set on a new path. (You have to realise that the temptation to start a discussion on the employment prospects of flamingoes is oh so tempting, but alas, that would be too much of a digression.)

OK, now my fictitious Organisation has clients, multi-displinary service providers and the fundraisers to generate income. What else does it need? *SIGH*. A database.

I’m going to ignore the needs of the fundraising department for today (I do so at the risk some colleagues may not talk to me tomorrow!)

Surely finding a clinical database for the Free the Flam… oh stuff it… the FTFF is not going to be that difficult? After all what do I need? A database that will record the personal details of the flamingoes rescued – that’s not too hard. Most databases do that reasonably well. What else? When the flamingoes came into care, how long they stayed, which service providers are helping each one, what the service outcomes were, how much the service cost, who was billed for the service (where applicable). There’s quite an array of information to cover, yet it’s all doable, right? Of course it is. It’s just data and processes with some techie stuff thrown in.

So I ask myself why it is that in 12 years I’ve NEVER met a service provider who raves about their database. In fact I don’t recall the last time I met a service provider who even seemed vaguely satisfied with their database. It doesn’t matter whether the Organisation does animals welfare, social disadvantage, international aid, disability or health: I hear a common message. Finding a database that does everything we want is like looking for the holy grail.

And yet, that’s what I’m doing at the moment. Looking for the holy grail. If it’s so difficult, why am I bothering? I think the Cheshire Cat has the answer for me:

‘We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’ [said the Cheshire Cat].

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice

‘You must be’, said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

I can’t argue with that.

Crime does pay

It appears that crime does pay. I have proof. When I write serious copy providing sincere advice about how to fight duplicates in your database, I get minimal ‘hits’ on my blog. Post that the database is responsible for the assassination of JFK and the readership increases ten-fold.

So it would appear that a blog comprised entirely of my rantings of data stupidity is going to be more popular than one which seeks to make some serious contribution to the data woes of the non-profit industry. That’s ok, I can live with that. It’s far more fun.

Take this little diversion as an example: if your database was person who would it be?

I thought about the databases I’m using at the moment and started to ponder. Immediately I was looking for a person who was outdated but who put on airs. It was only a few minutes before I nailed it. My database is…

Barry Fife Strictly Ballroom

That’s right, my database is the personfication of Barry Fife from Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom. This character, played so exquisitely by the late Bill Hunter, is the epitomy of the database I fight each day. Why?

  • The colours of my database are gaudy enough to match the great Mr Fife.
  • My database is full of crap just like Barry.
  • Barry is a little behind the times but doesn’t think he needs to change. If he simply continues to rant ‘there are no new steps’ then it will be so. My database is a little like this. It has yet to acknowledge that there is an online world. (Aka there are no new fundraising channels)
  • Mr Fife’s methods are somewhat dodgy.
  • My database rivals Barry’s charisma – hair piece and all.
Oh for a charismatic database… like this…

Paul Mercurio and Tara Morice in Strictly Ballroom

Who does your database personify?

Let go of the marketer and no one need get hurt

If you’ve worked in a not for profit Organisation chances are you’ve witnessed tension between the service providers and the marketers / fundraisers. This of course is a subject of constant debate; a subject oft discussed at senior management meetings; contemplated over cold coffee and no doubt ‘workshopped’ for a solution. In all these discussions both sides are probably trying their hardest to maintain diplomacy. Well, here are a few thoughts from someone who perhaps isn’t as tactful.


Why do service providers often roll their eyes at the very mention of the words ‘marketing and fundraising’?

Marketers do stupid things

Here are just a few examples I’ve seen – and heard about – through my career to date (and please note details and situations have been changed slightly to protect the identity of those involved).

A marketing person – I don’t recall the title – creative director, chief spin artist, whatever you like – constructed a whole campaign which was going to make the Organisation hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only problem was the concept featured people who were blind in one eye only, also known as monocular vision. Yes, you guessed right, the Organisation didn’t provide services to people with monocular vision.

A fundraiser decided that an event to attract ‘a younger audience’ was the go. They were aiming at the 30 something dual income no kids social set. A cocktail event was perfect. The charity was raising money for youth with alcohol and gambling issues.

A communications expert was appalled by the quantity of paper newsletters an Organisation sent. They decided to switch to an email version. 90% of clients on the database didn’t have a recorded email address.

Fundraiser’s make our clients look helpless

Who hasn’t heard this one? Respect, dignity, empowerment, independence – these are the values which are often held high in service Organisations whether it be disability, health, social disadvantage, animal rescue, international aid etc. Yet the marketer will point out time and time again that for fundraising to be successful, donors must see a need and pictures of wonderfully happy and independent clients are just ‘not needy’.

I’m sure that I’m not the first data analyst who has had to compile results of a fundraising test comparing ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ / happy and sad client imagery.

Whether you think it’s fair or not, I believe that the onus is often on the marketing team to work with the client service team to strike the right balance.

Marketing is often irrelevant

It’s rather easy to see how marketing can often seem off the planet. Let’s say you are a counsellor. Each day you speak with families whose children are ill with cancer. You open emails from the marketing team and it is about using the wrong PMS colour on a parent support group brochure. It’s going to look ridiculous, right?

Or this scenario… there is a waiting list for client service and yet there’s active recruitment for someone to work on the Organisation’s website. It is little wonder conflict and resentment are often present.

I’m pleased to say that it isn’t always this way. I witnessed a small but significant moment recently. A fundraiser had been asked to present to a room full of service providers. This could have been a ‘walking in to the lion den’s’ moment, or one completed with polite applause. Instead, a clinician interrupted the presentation to say ‘I just want to say – that’s great. Well done.’ It just goes to show, the marketer need not always be eaten alive.

Do you have an example of marketing stupidity or communication success in a not for profit? Please share.

A little gold dust

Welcome to the data monkey. Whether this will be a blog of gold dust or iron pyrites you be the judge!

What prompted me to start this blog? I have a job that I thought was common as muck. I work with data. Yes, that’s right, a database person, an analyst, a researcher, a reporting expert. Yawn? Perhaps. I hope that you will bear with me for at least one blog post before deciding that you’d rather watch paint dry. I hope to write about data in the not for profit world with a healthy dose of sarcasm. My favourite fundraising blog is by Jeff Brooks. His current blog post talks about a business book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball. Jeff, and evidently the hairball author, doesn’t take himself too seriously. I hope that I can attain a similar level of frivolity while conveying something worth more than a nanodot (whatever a nanodot is…)

But why bother writing a blog about data? Well, there seems to be a plethora of fundraising blogs out there. Many with very good content, however I thought I could offer a different perspective. If you’re a person who tears you hair out at processes like… ‘I just deleted the name because they sent the mail back and I thought that way they wouldn’t get any more mail’, then this is the blog for you. Before you think I’m starting a blog to have a rant about data donkeys, I should point out that when I’m calm (and not confronted by 5 codes meaning the same thing!), I realise that people in not for profits are often called upon to be a jack of all trades. Who manages your fundraising database? I suspect it’s probably a fundraiser, usually the Direct Marketing Manager. Who manages your clinical / client data? It’s probably someone who was once a service manager who was voted as having the most knowledge about a computer. Of course I think this isn’t the ideal situation. (After all, this is my livelihood). But it’s a situation I’m sure will continue – at least in small nonprofits who just cannot afford to employ a ‘data monkey’.

So whether you’re a fundraiser, a clinician or another data monkey like me, I hope that you will find some useful information in this blog.