A Fundraising Database is Like a Community Garden

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Alot of my work involves going into the fundraising department of a nonprofit and assessing and investigating why the Development staff cannot get the information they need to fundraise more effectively. Many times I am brought in to assess the "database" or "software product" and most times, the problem is not in the software but in the "peopleware" of an organization. In fact, I would say that 9 times out of 10, when the organization thinks it's a software problem it's a people problem.

I love analogies and often use them in my efforts to educate, cajole and persuade my clients, colleagues and friends that there is another way of looking at the situation. I also love analogies that make an emotional impact because I believe if we can find the right words and touch the right visceral vein it opens a window to understanding.

Here is an example: Many years ago a software product was being pitched to my organization as having so many available custom fields that we could store anything our hearts desired. Upon closer look, I realized, that while the system allowed you to store the data, you could not get at it or relate it to any other data once it was entered into the system. I looked at my VP and said, "It's like a large warehouse with many rooms and no connecting doors."

My latest analogy is that I believe that if an organization could think of their database as a community garden they might find themselves less likely to get into trouble and less in need of someone like myself to come in to "fix" them. Why? Well...if anyone has ever worked in a garden of any kind, you know it doesn't water, weed or plant itself. A garden requires a lot of hard work and maintenance to bear fruit. The same is true for a database. I always tell people that they should expect to put in 75-80% effort to get a 20-25% return. And....if you think of it as a "community" garden, you realize that you need everyone's involvement to make it successful. Not just the database manager (if you're lucky enough to have a person in that position) or the membership manager (the position often relegated to the role of database manager) but EVERYONE -- From the VP to the middle-manager to the administrative staff. It is a shared responsibility.

So...here's my challenge to all of you nonprofits who are having difficulties with your software. Start by asking yourself the following questions. The answers might surprise you.

1. Does your staff feel that they are making the best use of their database in support of their fundraising efforts? If not, why not? And what are their obstacles?

2. Does your staff feel like they've been properly trained on the use of the database?

3. Can your staff get the reports they need? If not, why not?

4. Who does your staff think is ultimately responsible for the database?

5. Who is the owner of the database?

6. Does everyone have a shared understanding of the way the organization wants to make use of the database?

Remember...we are all connected. The basic member of today is the major donor of tomorrow. That $10 lifetime member is also that planned giving donor that you've been looking for all this time. It's easy to get lost in the woods as you race through your day but if you can see the whole as well as the parts, you will find everything is really a lot easier when you tackle the problem together.

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