Ask the Experts: Improving your CRM data management  (Video, Podcast, and Transcription)

View this video directly on YouTube (and subscribe to our channel!)

Listen to the Podcast

Like podcasts? Find our full archive here or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Or ask your smart speaker.

Transcript below!

Nonprofit organizations collect a lot of donor data in their CRM systems. But what is the quality of that data? And what insights are nonprofits getting from that data to help increase donations?

Listen to Build Consulting’s development/fundraising operations and CRM experts, who offer ideas and answer your questions about how to take your donor data management to the next level.

Our experts have served hundreds of nonprofit organizations, assessing their needs for donor relationship management, selecting and implementing CRM systems, and providing hands-on data management and reporting support.

Registrants submitted dozens of questions and we chose nine to answer, reflecting a range of issues important to the participants. Thank you to all our participants for helping shape our discussion to include real-life scenarios.

The Questions

  1. How do I get my organization to understand how important our CRM database is? (starting about minute 6:25)
  2. What are some key trends that you see happening in the CRM space this past year and what should we be planning for? (11:10)
  3. The marketing department is pushing us to change CRMs, they don’t seem to understand how difficult that would be. What should we be communicating? (15:35)
  4. We actually have two or three different CRMs, one for support services, one for volunteers, and The Raiser’s Edge for donors. It’s a mess and no one seems to care! (24:32)
  5. We are getting ready to do a wealth screening. Is there a vendor that you guys like? (29:00)
  6. We just lost our database administrator, what should we be looking for in hiring a new one? (33:55)
  7. Before our database administrator left, she left a huge list of things that needed to be cleaned up, I have no idea where to start and had no idea that our database was so messy. (39:05)
  8. I’m never able to get the reports that I need from my fundraising team. Is it how our database is structured or am I asking the wrong questions? (48:25)
  9. Sometimes I just want to start from scratch, with a blank database. We can’t do that, but where do we start? (51:20)

Additional Resources:

Nonprofit Change Management Planning Template (Excel file with embedded instructions)

Selecting Nonprofit Software: Technology Comes Last! (Webinar video and MP3)

Examples of Audit Queries for Improved Nonprofit CRM Data Health (PDF)


  • Jo Butler Senior Nonprofit CRM Manager

    Jo joined Build after working in nonprofits for over a decade. She understands from experience the challenges inherent in fundraising, development, financial reconciliation, and constituent relationship tracking. Jo brings her long standing reputation as the “go-to” person for all things data to her Nonprofit CRM Manager consulting work at Build. More »

  • Kyle Haines Partner

    Kyle is a co-founding partner at Build Consulting with over 25 years of experience as a nonprofit technology leader and Chief Information Officer (CIO). His expertise lies in aligning technology to drive impact, foster strong relationships with constituents, and optimize organizational operations. More »


Peter Mirus:  Hello everyone and welcome to our webinar for February 2019 presented as a partnership between Build Consulting and Community IT Innovators.  In this webinar Build Consulting’s panel of experts will be answering the questions you submitted regarding improving your nonprofit CRM data management.  You can read more information about this topic in our blog.  A link will be provided near the end of this webinar. If your specific question wasn’t addressed during today’s session please contact us for an answer.  Links for contact methods also appear near the end of this webinar.

Just a few housekeeping notes before we get started. Feel free to ask questions via chat. We’ll try to weave a few additional questions in as we go.  Try to avoid multi-tasking you may just miss the best part of the presentation.  And as always, links to the recording of this webinar and the slides will be shared via email after the webinar.

Now just a little bit quickly about Community IT and Build Consulting.  We both work exclusively with nonprofit organizations to help them make information technology and system decisions that support their mission.  We have a collaborative approach empowering our clients to make informed choices for their organizations.

Community IT is focused on providing outsourced network management and technical support services.  Build Consulting leads in the social good sector by providing three types of services.  We service part time or interim Chief Information Officers for nonprofits, we perform business process technology and data projects ranging from strategic assessments and tech road maps to system selections and implementations.  And with our teams we provide outsourced data managers with deep development operations experience in nonprofit CRM expertise. It’s members of our Build Team’s group that are going to be your panelists for today’s conversation.

My name is Peter Mirus and I’m serving as the moderator for today’s discussion.  I’m happy to welcome three of my colleagues from Build Consulting who will be serving as our panel of experts for today’s session.  Kyle?

Kyle Haines:  Hey everyone.  I’ve a little bit of a cold so you will be hearing some sniffling and some coughing on today’s call but I’m going to do my best to bring my 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time energy to today’s conversation.  I’m joining today’s call because I began my career working in nonprofit CRM and my interest in it has continued and grown over the years.  But one thing that has stayed constant for me is really understanding how today’s topic around nonprofit data management, how it’s critical to get that right and to do a really excellent job at managing nonprofit data to be able to do some of the other things that we hear our clients wanting to be able to do.  I’ve gotten to learn a lot from Jo and Sarah who are on today’s call.  So I’m really excited to have a conversation today and hear their perspective and share a little bit more about mine.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Kyle.  Jo?

Jo Butler:  Good afternoon everybody.  My name is Jo Butler and I’m really looking forward to answering your questions and talking about a topic that I really like to gig out about which is data management. Don’t adjust your speakers I do in fact have a slight accent.  I moved to the D.C. area from the Gold Coast, Australia in 2002 and since have been working with nonprofits exclusively specifically embedding myself among the development operation, fundraising, federal relations departments.  I’ve been with Build for a little over 2 years now and work with the Build Teams offering that helps organizations use and interpret their data more effectively.  I’m happy to be here and thanks so much for having me.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Jo.  Sarah?

Sarah Lewis:  Hi everyone.  My name is Sarah Lewis and I’m relatively new to Build Consulting but I’ve spent the last 6 years or so focusing on database hygiene at various nonprofits primarily within the Razor’s Edge but other CRMs as well.  And I’m really excited to be a panelist on today’s webinar to help answer some questions that I myself have often had during my time working with nonprofits.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Sarah.  Just a couple of quick foundational ideas that we would like to share with you before we get started answering the questions that were submitted in advance of the webinar.  The first is this formula which we often share with clients when we speak to nonprofit organizations.  It stands for old organization + new technology = expensive old organization. And we just share this to underscore that even though technology is important to organizational transformation, it’s critical to the success of any organization when considering technology.

Successful transformation involves a variety of things which you can see on the screen here; leadership and governance, operations, process data and technology.  Technology is deliberately put last because if everything up stream of that isn’t properly attended to then the chance of technology failure is much higher.  And, in fact, nonprofit technology projects in the sector fail at the rate of over 50%.

And now we are going to get on to your questions. We received roughly 20 excellent questions in advance from registrants which we boiled down into nine that we plan on answering during this session and if we have extra time we’ll take additional live questions from the audience.  We had over 80 registrants, 30 of which are attending today.  We had a lot of snowing winter weather around the D.C. area where a lot of our audience comes from.  Again, this will be available after as a recording.  We thank you who are able to attend for your participation.  This is an informal collaborative discussion.  If you’d like a more comprehensive answer to a particular question or an answer that speaks more directly to your individual situation please do contact us and we will be happy to dialogue with you.


So the first question we are going to address today is how do I get my organization to understand how important our CRM database is?  Sarah would you like to take the first crack at answering this question?

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  Thanks Peter. I think I would say that the very first step is going to be senior leadership buy-in so really getting them to understand that your CRM is the absolute most important piece of maintaining and creating those quality relationships with your constituents, and then from there kind of driving that positive change from the top-down.  And just to be clear when I’m saying constituents, I’m talking about anyone in your database whether that’s your organization’s members, volunteers, event attendees etcetera.  And then I would also just add that there can sometimes be feelings of resentment within an organization if people feel as if a CRM is kind of being forced on them without any real acknowledgement of the hard work that goes into a thriving database.  That can really go a long way in ensuring that individuals and teams are all feeling engaged and that everyone has a clear sense of what the return on investment is going to be for the organization.

Jo Butler:  This is Jo.  I believe that the best way to help people to understand CRM’s benefit is to demonstrate how it can improve and support their work.  I see this a lot, it’s the classic what’s in it for me mentality.  Staff don’t adopt the new system because they don’t understand like what it can offer them.  So I would spend some time explaining how CRM would benefit them directly and not just the organization as a whole.  So explain to each department how valuable the CRM can be to their responsibility specifically and help make the connection to how their use informs your organization’s use of that data to ultimately help your mission.

Kyle Haines:  This is Kyle and I think I would add that for some organizations maybe the way to ask the question of senior leadership going back to what you said Sarah is — could we serve constituents better if we used CRM better?  If the organization doesn’t think the answer is yes then perhaps you have a huge problem.  If the answer is yes if people say we can actually use this to make meaningful changes in how the organization engages with and interacts with constituents I think taking the time to actually spell out what that means is important. So this can mean — the way I think of it, it can mean a couple of different things.  It can be looking at what the cost savings might look like if you were serving constituents better or even better if you can figure out that there is going to be a return on investment, if you can figure out how this might actually drive revenue that’s the best way in my view to get senior leadership engaged back to again what Sarah said at the outset.  I found it’s just easier to engage organizations around what the opportunities are rather than just making the case that this will make us work faster.  A lot of folks in senior leadership positions have heard that argument before and not seen any return on that.  And something you said Jo that I thought was interesting that I hadn’t really thought about was spending more time with staff at either the team level or individually and I’m wondering is there anything you have done that you think would work well?

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  I in the past have been asked to join their department or team meetings for the first 10 minutes and sort of show and tell how to do something relative to their processes in the system.  Just show them a cool feature of the report that will improve their team’s efficiency.  We have also tried hosting sort of a lunch time show and tell.  Some nonprofits call them brown bags that highlight capabilities.  Another tactic that we deployed at our a client of Build Teams was to appoint a super user or a data steward in each department who can really help to cheerlead system use and to help the enthusiasm come from various staff levels not just you know one person drumming on about its use.  Does that help?

Kyle Haines:  It does.  I like that idea of a data steward.  I think that’s really interesting that they are embedded in each department.

Peter Mirus:  Great.  Cool.  Thanks. Second question is what are some key trends that we see happening in the CRM space this last year in 2018 and what should we be planning for in this year?

Kyle Haines:  This is interesting because I feel like this question comes up a lot and it seems to be perennial question.  And I saw a lot of the questions today in addition to this one being related to organizations who were talking about fundraising specifically and people who might be considering making a switch.  I think an overarching comment is that a trend that I’ve seen going on for a number of years is that vendors are thinking about CRM more broadly than just fundraising.  And I think that this mirrors in some ways some of the ways that I see organizations thinking about CRM.  I just think we are seeing a definition of CRM that gets even more murkier as the boundaries of CRM technology is getting murkier.  So for one of my clients the boundaries of CRM are going to have to expand to include engagement via mobile apps, engagement via client intake system, engagement on Facebook and I think for now that’s it.  That gets overwhelming.  That’s an example of how the boundaries of CRM I think are expanding both for our clients and also for the marketplace in general.

Secondly I think if you are thinking about making a change and planning for those changes and preparing for those changes I will try to figure out what stuff was happening outside of my CRM and then focus on what it would mean to get that stuff into your CRM.  We always say and Peter mentioned earlier when he shared our information strategy, before jumping to technology and making the assumption that it will just magically happen by making a technology change, I would figure all of the levers that the organization needs to pull to get the return on investment of making a change actually to materialize.

And then I think for the organizations on today’s webinar I think there are some folks that are on the smaller side, I think the last thing I would say about trends is that we are seeing a lot more competition for your attention with seemingly new players every month.  And I would encourage those smaller organizations to walk not run to those solutions.  If you are going to make a switch make sure the technology is your real need and it’s not something else related to process or data or senior leadership operations the other aspects of information strategy.

Jo Butler:  If I could jump in here I just wanted to talk about something that Build is actively involved in which is testing out some new workflow functionality for a particular vendor.  The workflow is sort of where users can instruct or configure the database to bake in certain tasks or actions to take place when specific triggers or things happen in the database.  So, for example, if a gift over $500 is made in a certain region, once the workflow is set up the database can add an action to the fundraiser’s task to call that individual or even further the system could send out a highly personalized thank you card by email to that donor and then log that interaction on the constituent record.  There are really cool things coming out in the pipeline and I personally am pretty excited to help organizations sort of leverage that capability in this coming year.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Jo.  Again, don’t forget folks if you hear something that prompts another question for you or there is another question that you would like to ask in general you can go ahead and use the chat features and go to the webinar to submit it.

Third question, the marketing department is pushing us to change CRMs.  They don’t seem to understand how difficult that would be.  What should we be communicating to them?  Jo?

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  First I would sort of investigate into why they are pushing so hard for a new CRM. If you have a solution currently what it can’t do for them that they think just getting another software could? Often times like just the changing technology isn’t going to solve the underlying issues.  Although some people think of CRM as just technology it’s so much more than that.  I would help them consider the following which is like one, do you have time to implement the CRM?  So smaller systems for smaller nonprofits may only need you know three to six months whereas larger scale organizations with multiple field offices or other systems that need to be integrated may need more than a year, year and a half.  There are going to be many staffing both with this change.  I would consider all the other activities that are going on within the organization too.  So you wouldn’t want to implement a new CRM when you are launching a campaign or you have your big 50th anniversary gala or database manager might be on absence but that will inadvertently lead to an unsuccessful rollout.

The other thing that I would sort of try to articulate is before you implement a system you really need to know the total cost. You know that requires the upfront cost or the recurring cost to maintain but you need to run the numbers to gauge the potential returns so how soon and to what degree will this system positively impact acquisition, donations, member retention rates, I will look for the revenue how will it come, for the  revenue to achieve the return on the investment.  Because usually it’s not just the upfront fees or the monthly charges there is also the amount of staff time, working hours, revenue that maybe lost during implementation.  So I think trying to articulate and communicate that it’s not just buying something off the shelf that there is a lot of steps involved. But I think Sarah you have been through multiple software changes, right?  What do you think?

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  So I’ve been through a CRM conversion or two and one thing that we did well I would say was kind of speak up early and often about what we wanted out of the new CRM. And then maybe something that we didn’t do as well was really spend some quality time thinking about who all the stakeholders were and to what extent a change like this could impact each of them and the work that they do?  So we have a tool that we use and you can actually download it from our site and it’s called the Change Management Impact Grid.  It catalogs who is going to be impacted by a change and then also the extent of that impact.  So using this tool is going to look differently at every organization but in general everyone who will be impacted should be like they got a voice whether that’s asking for input via a survey or if it’s having an actual seat at the table during software selection.  It can be surprising how extensive this part of the process can be for organizations and a lot of orgs kind of struggle with developing this list which is what makes it so important to use right from the onset since it really is the best way to kind of paint a really clear picture of everyone impacted by the implementation of your software.  Kyle did you have anything to add or?

Kyle Haines:  It’s interesting.  I put myself on mute because I was going through one of my coughing fits.  I was thinking about the Change Management Impact Grid and even using it on my projects.  It’s always such an amazing prompter to really think through how a change is going to impact lots of folks within an organization or I should say all of the folks within an organization.  I sort of chuckled when I saw this question because when I think about marketing software while it’s getting increasingly powerful it’s nowhere near as foundational as CRM is for most nonprofits.  And so when a single department is pushing something I think it’s really important going back to what you said Sarah to understand who all of the stakeholders are and how they are being impacted by the change.

And I think just to amplify a little bit the point that I made about it being a foundational tool it should be or CRM should be a tool for the entire organization.  And no single department whether it’s marketing or development or programs, no department should get to push in an organization towards a CRM solution that’s centric to what they do.  I don’t obviously have all of the details of this particular situation but I would try to find a way to bring this conversation — once again I will bring it back up to the senior leadership team of the organization and make sure that they really understood what the tangible and non intangible costs of making this change would be and that there really are measurable opportunities in making this change.

Lastly I would just add that I think there is a bunch of — marketers are notoriously prone to fall prey to marketing.  There is a lot of market buzz around how certain tools integrate well with CRM and the extent of that integration.  My experience has been in some of the selections we have done is that these integrations are really nascent.  They are not that deep and so if the push is — one of the major pushes for the marketing department is greater integration I would really want to understand what that integration looked like and make sure that the marketing team understood the extent of that integration as well.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Kyle.  We had a question coming in from an audience member Katrina who asks are those capabilities referring to the workflow capabilities that you mentioned available on all CRMs?  Our org uses Neon and has some of that functionality.  I would say just to answer it cursorily and then throw it out to the team.  Yes this type of functionality, the automated workflow is emerging increasingly in sophisticated ways across multiple CRMs Neon yes, but also the Razor’s Edge, SalesForce, Every Action and a variety of others.  Kyle and Jo and Sarah, are you seeing the same thing?  Jo you first.

Jo Butler:  Yes.  The vendor I was talking about was actually Blackboard with NXT but I know that what they call workflows baked into Razor’s Edge database view but this is more sort of acting upon the use of AI and sort of anticipating the behaviors of certain constituents and prompting actions upon that which is what I’m sort of excited about.  I’m not sure about other vendors at the moment.  I’m sure but then 9 months like rolling as everybody else was build something write a script and maybe how to use that functionality on Neon. Kyle do you have any?

Kyle Haines:  I have definitely seen it in other places.  As you were talking about the particular client Joe was referencing I’m not involved there but where my brain went was the process by which that organization made decisions about how that workflow, who is going to support that workflow because I think the example you talked about earlier Jo was that somebody might do a personalized follow up to donors who have given $500.  I’ll bet for most of the folks on today’s call and our client, it’s not as if somebody was just sitting around waiting for something to do.  So it means somebody’s job is changing, right?  Like someone has the responsibility to follow up with those donors. So I always think it’s interesting the process by which organizations not only think about how they are going to surface information in automated ways but what they are going to do with that information once they get it.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Kyle.  The next question is Question 4: we actually have two or three different CRMs; one for support services, one for volunteers and the Razor’s Edge for donors.  It’s a mess and no one seems to care.  We routinely encounter organizations with multiple CRMs. Sarah what would you say in response to this question?

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  So sometimes at Build our approach is to kind of simply create a system map or a system diagram.  And what this does is really shows kind of where the systems connect and then lays bare where they don’t connect.  And it also kind of documents the hard cost of having too many systems.  So it really is a critical first step in getting everyone together to really consider how each system is used and how the systems talk to each other or even how they don’t talk to each other.  So kind of some other questions to think about when you are creating your map or this diagram are number 1, how do we get the right information out of each system and then move it to where it needs to be. Also think about how often is this done and then who is responsible.

Jo Butler:  So by using sort of separate platforms to manage different aspects of your donor information the data sources have no way to inform each other. So the isolation at this data makes it difficult for you to get a full picture of your supporters which that’s your amazing  efforts. You don’t necessarily need to have all the data from support services database to be replicated into the Razor’s Edge or vice versa but maybe you sync back a tag, flag or attribute from the Razor’s Edge into the support services database that indicates that that constituent is a donor so that when they call support services again the service rep can thank them for being a contributor.  So I would take the time to sort of inventory the types of data that’s in the different systems and how that can inform the relationship and make it easy to understand the customer when you are looking into each database individually.  I know that there is some great integration tools out there that can help with back data sync of course depending on what CRM you are using.

Kyle Haines:  I think maybe — so this is Kyle.  What I might add is and I’m going to go back to something I said earlier I talked about opportunities, costs and I think often times when I work with clients people have a notional idea that it would be better if we had one database or if there was a database of record but increasingly as I get more gray hair I’m not always convinced that’s the case.  For the person who asked this question I would ask what the likelihood of somebody receiving support services would be to become a volunteer for example or to become a donor ideally and try to do some extrapolation of what the likelihood would be and then what the potential net revenue might look like and try to make an argument for the cost associated with getting integration either with the lower case i or an upper case I setup.

With volunteers, at least the last time I read research on volunteers those folks I believe are extremely likely to donate. They are more likely to donate then obviously acquiring a new donor.  So if I were making an argument around that this is a worthwhile thing to do I would want to figure out even before I integrate it, how many volunteers right now that we have that aren’t donors.  And based on industry standards if we converted let’s say they are 12 times likely to get as an example.  What would that actually look like?  Even if it was just a back of a napkin calculation because again I think rather than just glomming under the idea that everything should be in one place actually showing the monetary impact of eliminating some of these silos I think it is a much more compelling way to make an argument to make a change and make an investment.

Peter Mirus:  Thanks Kyle.  Our next question is Question 5: we are getting ready to do a wealth screening.  Is there a vendor that you guys like?

Jo Butler:  Since most of the vendors use similar data sources for their wealth screening results I sort of would focus more on the steps and considerations that you should take before the screen itself.  So depending on the size of your screening you should at least make sure that you have one staff member to do the analysis when the results returned. And, I would say don’t screen if you don’t have front line fundraising staff to follow up on the leads that are produced, each are  strategic in the number of prospects that you screen and consider doing sort of rolling screens because they are expensive and you don’t want the results to just sit there gathering dust.  And then I guess as far as the actual data list to be screened cleaning the data beforehand is well worth the time investment because that data is the number one way why it matches aren’t made, so time spent on this in advance can save a lot of time which is money confirming that later on.

I would actually suggest purchasing an address update through MCRA either before or part of the screening because a significant match point or assets is the address.  I would also fix any typos, make sure that the addresses are consistently entered.  I have seen in some client’s databases that the apartment number is before the street address. And I would also not include anybody that only has a Post Office box address.  Either research what their street address is or just eliminate them from the screen files submitted.  And then you know try and gather as much information as possible so middle initials, spouses name, maiden names are particularly important in matching individuals so make sure that you have all of that ready before you submit your file. The other thing I would say is if budget is tight I wouldn’t waste it on screening donors that you already know well so your board members, your major donors, maybe the key volunteers.  You already know them so I would eliminate those from the screening.

Kyle Haines:  I think the only things I would add to that Jo would be you touched on this is and I am certainly not an expert on wealth screenings but I would say that make sure and I think this is what you were saying is that you have a plan to use the data from the screening.  And by plan I mean a real plan that might look like we are going to reach out to X number of new or existing donors that we didn’t know that they have the capacity that they did.  And we are going to rank them the week after we got the data and we are going to try to have the first contact with him 30 days.  Not just a plan of we are going to find out more about our donors and it’s going to help us raise more money that’s not a plan.

Jo Butler:  Right.

Kyle Haines:  Secondly I would say if this is your first — sounds like this is the first wealth screening that organization is doing start cheap.  Get a Corolla and not Lexus and I have seen this in organizations that do multiple screenings.  It’s amazing how often some of the lowest cost screenings are the ones that move the needle for the organization and identify new donors and get them thinking in new ways.  And then lastly I would say whatever screening service you use, make sure you have a plan for getting that data into your CRM.  If part of the story about donors in some external spreadsheet or proprietary database and part of the story is in your CRM that’s a problem.  No major gift officer or executive director is going to want to have giving information in one place and engagement history in one place and the wealth screenings living in an entirely different place.  So I think it’s really important to pick a vendor where you know the data is portable enough and you have a plan and the expertise in-house to get that data in your CRM system.

Peter Mirus:  Great.  Let’s move on to the next question.  Question 6: We just lost our database administrator.  What should we be looking for in hiring a new one?  We do have some resources on the site about this under the heading of Good Database Managers are Hard to Find.  So there are a number of resources there that are available for anybody wants to take a look at it.  It’s a very detailed emphasis on what to look for and also not just how to hire one but how to retain them as well since there is a lot of turnover.  But Kyle what would you say in response to this question.

Kyle Haines:  I mean this is interesting because I started out as a database administrator many years ago.  This has been a persistent problem in the industry is losing database administrators and the disruption that it causes for organizations.  In that time I hope I have gotten a little bit wiser and sort of how I answer this question and what I tell people is most important is change. I actually think it’s important but it’s not essential that the person you are hiring knows how to make the software work.  And I say this because learning software while it’s not easy learning the skill set to be a great database administrator is not easy and it takes years of experience and it took me more than 5 years to become what I would call a great database administrator.  It’s a lot of the soft skills that make somebody a great database administrator and just to put this into concrete terms I think earlier one of the people asking a question they were using Neon.  While I don’t have any experience with Neon as a technology platform, given my experience in fund raising, given my experience in development operations it’s something I could pick up very, very easily.  So I don’t think it’s important when hiring that you find somebody who is a seasoned technology expert.  I think it’s more important to find somebody who is a seasoned database expert.

And then looking for that person just to go a little bit deeper I think of three roles that a great database administrator plays.  They are an entrepreneur which means that they are looking for opportunities in the data. They are a great collaborator which means that they are capable of bringing people together as Joe suggested earlier to exploring new opportunities and they are also a great facilitator.  What I mean by that is they can facilitate introducing operational process data and technology changes to the organization and understand the speed with which an organization can make those changes and absorb those changes.

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  If I could just pipe in I would just echo what Kyle says and that the most important element of a great database administrator is really not having all of the data solutions all the time but the ability to bring the right parties to the table and then kind of explore creative solutions together.  So I think that where a lot of organizations often fall short is by being drawn in by that temptation to kind of bring someone in who can use their 10 or 15 plus years of specific software expertise to solve all of their problems immediately.  And while that would be fantastic it’s really not very realistic.  So it’s far more vital to the organization’s long term success to have someone that can spot opportunities on the horizon and then kind of bring everyone together to explore them.  Jo would you have anything to add?

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  So basically anyone can get training on the software solution itself but there are some soft skills that Kyle mentioned or core competencies that make a really excellent database manager.  I think they need to be inquisitive.  They need to identify the information that is needed to clarify a situation so asking the right questions to draw out that information especially when others might be reluctant to talk about it.  They either need to be a good communicator or interpreter of technical and functional requirements.  So a lot of the work in this position is to translate what the development team needs, the finance team or IT team the analytics team.  We all know that various teams speak very different terminologies at times.

I also think that they should be a good problem solver.  Think outside the box, figure out creative solutions to specific problems that perhaps only exist in your organization.  That’s sort of innovation that can’t just be Google searched on the software solutions helpdesk knowledge base.  So I would try to tease out those core competencies within the interview or hiring process.

Peter Mirus:  Cool.  Thanks Jo. Our next question is very related and it is Question 7: Before our database administrator left she left a huge list of things needed to be cleaned up.  I have no idea where to start and I had no idea that her database was so messy. Again, this is one that we have encountered a number of times before particularly one we have come into fill that gap when an organization lost an administrator suddenly and they wanted us to come in and sort of take charge of the situation and keep the trains running.  Sarah how would you go about answering this question?

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  So this is definitely something I have seen often.  I would just offer — before you can even begin to kind of clean up or prevent future bad data from coming through it’s really important to kind of understand the overall data health through analyzation as in just how dirty is your database?  So some important questions to maybe ask yourself could be how bad is our duplicate situation?  Where are these duplicates coming from?  And then kind of from there you can start to put together some audit queries to then begin the cleanup process.

Kyle Haines:  Yeah.  I mean I would encourage you to immediately try to figure out have other staff noticed that the database was messy?  Have they noticed for example that there might be five different ways the organization has ‘mister’ in the database?  Does entering gifts — does it take a secret decoder?  Does pouring reports take a huge amount of time?  If other people have noticed these types of things I would ask them to begin to catalog not fix these areas for cleanup. And I was just on vacation with a friend who was reading a book called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.  This astronaut and I’m forgetting which astronaut it was but he was talking about how early in his career if he saw a fire his immediate reaction would be to grab a fire extinguisher and start putting out the fire.  What he said was that what NASA encourages folks to do which I think there is some wisdom in this, is approach any urgent situation or a catastrophe to the extent that this database is a catastrophe in three stages.  First, what they do is they warn.  If there is a fire on the space station they let everyone know about the problem.  This is an American astronaut.  The first thing they do is they warn folks on the Russian side of the space station that something is amiss.  And then they go to gather where they try to gather as much information as possible. And then they move on to fixing the problem.  I think far too many organizations jump to fixing and we get calls often where people want us to fix their database in a short period of time.  What I think you said earlier Sarah was right like how did you get to that point and really understanding how you got to that point that’s the first step.  That’s the gather step before you move on.  Thanks again.

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  What I’d like to do when I’m helping clients is to sort of set a schedule of order queries that you mentioned Sarah that helped identify cleanup opportunities needed sort of weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually.  And all these depend on what your current organization’s business practices are but will keep data cohesive and streamlined.  These queries can help identify where staff may need additional training if we repeatedly see misquoting in entries.  I think you know that’s one thing you could set up but as Sarah said you have to identify where that bad data is coming in from too.

Peter Mirus:  Jo can you dive a little bit more deep into the weeds and give some examples of audit queries or let folks know where they can find some examples?

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  So weekly audit queries might be so for example any new record added that doesn’t have any data in the address line fields I would run this and use that to update a checkbox in the record that indicates that the record has no valid addresses.  Or if I know that leadership looks at an activity report every week I may have a query set up to help identify a type or solicitor is missing from an interaction. I can fix those before the report is run and then ensure like the accuracy.  Maybe on a monthly basis say the organization offers a free membership that’s given for a year.  So each month I put an audit query to remove that free membership card from those records when that time is expired.  Or if records are missing a title to fix the addressee and salutations since some databases use the formula which relies on the presence of a title field so perhaps a query can help identify those.

Another one could be the record has a presence of an email address but there isn’t that aren’t the same in that address.  I could go on.  There might be an annual report that you pull before you do the listing on your website.  So maybe a query that indicates that you need to reach out those individuals before that listing is published to ask them how they were prepared to be recognized or you know do an NCRH here that would query on records that maybe have that not a valid address in the beginning.  There’s all little of audit queries and actually we could probably provide a document that lists out some of those examples to the attendees afterward if you like.

Peter Mirus:  Sure.  We can make that available.  When we send out the follow up email providing the links to the video and the recording, we will provide also some links to resources that were mentioned during this webinar and we will make that audit query list available at that time as well.

Here is another question from the audience, does Build do this kind of cleanup or help fix these issues once they have been gathered and identified or can we use the helpdesk at our specific CRM?  I think the answer is to some extent yes you can use the helpdesk if your specific CRM varies dramatically by the competency of the helpdesk for that CRM and what level of support that you have and how much they are really willing to work with you on solving problems that are sort of business related as opposed to how to relate it and yes Build can help do these kinds of clean ups.  Kyle I think I would say that we are reluctant to get into the situations where there is a quick fix that’s asked for as you alluded to earlier.  We want to work with clients that understand the long term value and what’s being proposed.  Do you want to answer that differently?

Kyle Haines:  No I think that’s right.  I mean I think that I have a client right now where the pace of change is really slow. For many people at the organization they want things fixed right away.  But it’s really important to understand I think it was Sarah who said that understanding how they got to that point and understanding the decisions that were made is critical before you just jump into cleaning things up.  I have learnt that the hard way by removing something that I thought was extraneous combining things that I thought could be combined.  You know it’s just hard to jump into those types of cleanup changes really quickly. It’s always important I think to assess how you got there.  Thanks.

Peter Mirus:  We have got about 8 minutes left to answer the remaining two questions so we are going to move a little bit more quickly.  And then we have a couple of housekeeping notes and more information to share at the very end of the last couple of minutes.

So moving along our next question is, Question 8: I’m never able to get the reports that I need from my fund raising team.  Is that how our database is structured or am I asking the wrong questions?  Sarah how would you answer that?

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  I would say it’s not so much an issue of asking the wrong questions as it is kind of taking the time to explain how you intend to use the data that you are requesting. So a lot of people get tripped up by the database language which is where having a report request form can really come in handy.  Just to clarify when I say database language I mean opportunity versus a proposal or maybe an action versus an activity.  They are called different names in different databases but they really mean the same thing and the language in the database isn’t always in line with how your specific organization might categorize what you would like the report to show.  Jo do you have anything to add?

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  I completely agree.  I think sometimes we just don’t know how to ask for what we want and we all know how differently fundraises in IT tech minds work.  So most of the time it’s just the translation issue so having a report request form is a great way to prompting the requester to think about what it is they expect to see in the end.  You know is it a list of gifts versus donors?  Are there any exclusions?  If it’s for mailing should we include international addresses?  Is it for internal or external use that would tell the database manager to trigger the use of the anonymous flag?  Is there something for finance so we should exclude soft credits that may lead to double counting.  All these questions might sound like an interrogation but it really helps the database manager anticipate also the fields you might need in the end that you haven’t specifically asked for.

Kyle Haines:  I love the idea of report request form and I think the biggest question is figuring out the boundaries of the report request form.  I see some organizations create ones that are 8 pages long with no expectation that they are going to have to talk to the person who made the request.  And so, I always encourage organizations that I work with to set up time to meet to talk about the report request after they get the form.  I literally don’t see enough nonprofits getting in a conference room, doing a screen share and building out a report or a query or a list live.  I think that can be effective used in combination with report request form it would be incredibly effective.

Peter Mirus:  I like the idea of report requester form.

Sarah Lewis:  Me too.

Kyle Haines:  Yeah.  That’s what this question is really about.

Peter Mirus:  Cool.  Thanks guys. And then a final question here unless somebody wants to try to squeak in one through the chat at the last minute. Question 9 Sometimes I just want to start from a scratch with a blank database.  We can’t do that but where do we start?  I would say a) we feel your pain.  I think everybody has the temptation that it will be just easier to build from scratch than fix what they have got.  But Kyle what would you present as being a more practical solution?

Kyle Haines:  Clearly you can’t do that.  I know the person who asked the question wasn’t thinking that was a viable solution. I’ll just go back to something that I said earlier.  It’s really important to diagnose how did you get to this point and understand that because there might be some changes that you need to make in staffing, how the operations run business processes and this is again as a plug for just not jumping in and starting cleaning up.  But when you are at that point that you are ready to do cleanup I would say that there are two things I might recommend.  One is making sure that VIP records are absolutely perfect.  I think that’s a well known tactic probably for a lot of folks on today’s call.  Secondly I would say that where I start is when I work on cleanup is understanding the processes that support the daily operations of the organizations, so really digging deep, understanding how gifts are handled, how they are entered, how they are reconciled, how acknowledgements are done and how receiving is done.  That’s where I start because you are not going to win any friends if you tackle a database project and you are focusing on major gift fields like tracking where proposals are if gift entry is a total mess.  So you have got to get that part of your house in order first.

Jo Butler:  Yeah.  So I think you may be feeling this way I’m speculating but I’m assuming that the data in the system is incomplete, inconsistent, inaccurate, outdated but if that’s the case the good news is that all of these can be corrected and prevented. So one of the things that I do when I’m first engaging with the new client is do a full assessment or audit of that database.  So often I can see where data has been entered in the system a certain way for a few years and then complete other way for the following few years.  And then nothing was entered for a few months and then we are back to the original way.  This tends to happen when the staff turnover or when an inexperienced but well intentioned person comes in and starts their own tracking procedures but fails to take the previous year’s data and conform it to their new structure. So investing time and effort into cleaning and aligning your data is critical for the effective use of your CRM and its value increases obviously exponentially.  When data is of high quality it’s more effective at driving greater organizational success because of the reliance on the fact database decisions instead of just human intuition and habit.  But I think if it’s a case of bad data you can clean it up so there is hope. Don’t give up.  Don’t start from scratch.

Peter Mirus:  Sarah?

Sarah Lewis:  Yeah.  So I’ll just kind of wrap up to say one of the ways that Build helps to manage kind of this sense of overwhelming and frustration feeling is kind of wanting to start through what we call data governance.  So with some of our clients we have our monthly meeting and that focuses on the management and integrity of data.  It’s called the Data Governance Committee.  And then, within this committee there are what we call data stewards and I know Jo touched on this earlier, but just to dig a little bit deeper. Data stewards represent each team and spend time identifying issues and defining procedures and then kind of formulating a plan to execute new procedures, data cleanup etcetera.  So then when staff take on the role of being a data steward they are assuming accountability for some part of that data and have an active stake in its quality which is really key.  So data governance relies heavily on data stewards to implement policies within the organization and then ultimately the end goal is then better data quality.  So having this committee with a clear purpose really ensures that the data is consistent and trustworthy and I think overall it really optimizes operations as a whole.

Peter Mirus:  Cool.  Thanks. I’ll just add quickly that we are going to be presenting several webinars over the course of the rest of this year and you’ll be getting emails about them all of you who were on the call today.  On data quality, what is data quality, how to measure it and how to apply the data quality principles about information management basics there is a separate topic from that and a variety of other things.  So keep your eyes peeled for those.  Just a couple of quick concluding notes before we sign off.  For more information you can visit our blog or learning resources section of our site or subscribe for our newsletter if you haven’t already done so.  Increasingly now and this will be the case with this webinar as well we share a lot of detailed information in these webinars and it’s nice to be able to go back to specific sections.  So when we post the video on the Build Consulting website each question will be time stamped in the description.  For those who want to be able to consume it as an mp3 file that will be available as well so you can listen to it like you would a podcast.  Within a reasonable period of time we hope to also have a transcription up.  So it will be available on all of those different formats.

You can continue the conversation with us via any of these methods that you like.  Feel free to reach out to us any time with your questions and comments and let us know how we can better serve you.  Finally just a couple of quick housekeeping notes about immediately upcoming events, Community IT is producing a webinar in March on the 20th from 3 to 4 p.m. Eastern time.  It’s going to be a walkthrough of the first nonprofit cyber security incident report which takes a look at the different types of occurrences of attacks that happen at small and mid-sized nonprofit organizations and the security improvements that will provide protection against the most common attacks.  Build Consulting is going to be doing a webinar as well on a topic TBD and you’ll get an email about that.

Thanks for everyone who joined the call today.  It’s been really great to spend time with you and we hope we answered some of your questions.  Again feel free to reach out to us if you have further questions.  We started out with 31 attendees and we maintained that no more of a loss than three individuals up until just a minute ago. That’s great retention.  Thanks for sticking with us throughout as we answered your questions

Do you spend a lot of money on your information systems, but do not get a lot out of them? Build Consulting helps maximize ROI