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Five Signs Your Nonprofit’s Database Isn’t Keeping Up

Nonprofits are in the business of making change. And sometimes that change is happening right within your own organization — in how you do your work, manage your projects, take care of your data, and more. So often, this internal change is the kind that growing nonprofits have the least time and resources to anticipate. As you do your good work in your community, what are some signs that your nonprofit database is keeping up, or not? How do you make sure your technology is growing and changing as your mission does?

This is one of the many reasons we believe that databases are more than a one-time project. A database isn’t just a tool implemented once — like a good relationship, it needs care and attention so you can continue to rely on it. Here are five signs it might be time to devote some fresh attention to your database and how it’s working for your organization. Think of it as spring cleaning for your technology!

5 Signs Your Nonprofit Database is Ready for Change

  1. Fields have been co-opted and are being used for other purposes. The membership details field is also being used to capture the phone number for the emergency contact. You didn’t even realize that emergency contact information was being entered into Salesforce. Should you expand the system to include some membership fields? Who is it in the organization that needs this data and how are they using it?
  2. Your colleagues are requesting many one-off lists of data. Your marketing team keeps asking for data to be exported from the database so they can use it in their marketing platform to send out emails. They often ask for the data to be segmented in different ways, some that requires manual manipulation of the data. Could it be easier to pull this data out? Could you create a process for sending data directly from Salesforce?
  3. The original purpose of your database has morphed and/or grown… and sometimes for very good reasons! This can mean more team members are making regular use of the database. Or a program has done well and will be scaling, so the database needs to scale to grow with it. Maybe your database was originally to hold just your volunteers and their contact information, but now you are finding that the development team is asking for volunteer hours and information about how much donors and board members are volunteering. You’re tracking this information easily enough and can generate the reports, but wouldn’t it be better to have it all in one place? Is it time for a team chat, to get everyone around the table and share their latest needs and ideas?
  4. There is duplicate data and integrations with external systems. You’ve begun to find duplicate records in your database, despite being the only person entering the data into the system. However, you have integrated with an external system that does a periodic dump of data into Salesforce — could that be the cause of your duplicates? The bigger question: what should you trust, the data that’s already there or the one that got dumped into it? Better to do a check-in now than later this year when it’s time for year-end giving!
  5. You’re finding that some data is Invalid or incorrect. While editing a contact record’s address information, you notice that the data for another contact has the same address. Are these two contacts related? Do they live in the same house? Is one of the addresses incorrect? Is it time for some data clean-up?

You might find that you have more than one of these signs… which might feel a little frustrating! But take heart: growing pains are a good thing when it comes to your database. It’s a sign that your organization is learning and that your team is getting use out of an important tool. Plus, the fact that you’re asking the questions at all means you care about the information your nonprofit collects.

Because at the end of the day, that information isn’t really about information at all — it’s part of a relationship you have with your donors, your volunteers, and the community you serve. So just take a deep breath and begin with the growing pain that feels most important to your nonprofit. (And if you’d like a mindful way to begin the work, check out this practice we recently shared!)

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