Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager

I am publishing today a free eBook called "How to Interview and Employ a Great Database Manager". But I am using the "pay with a tweet" concept for the first time so my thanks in advance for helping me try that out! Just click on the following button to download - don't worry, it only takes a few seconds.

About the Book

I have helped a number of charities interview and employ new Database Managers. The first time I did it, two things hit me: first, I was quite surprised at how I, as a “database person”, really could tell if someone else was also a “database person”. I found that if I asked the right questions, dug a bit deeper where necessary and gave an interviewee a chance to express themselves, then I could soon tell if someone did have the experience or the potential to be a Database Manager.

The second thing I learned straight away was that just because someone has the skills to be a Database Manager, it doesn’t mean they will necessarily fit in with your team or your organisation. In fact, the very first time I helped a charity with their interviews, after the first candidate which I liked, the Development Director told me that it didn’t matter how good that individual was, they simply wouldn’t work well with his team.

So, everything I discuss in this book has that significant caveat to it: I will try to show you what a great Database Manager looks like and how you might be able to employ one, but everything else which you would normally do when interviewing anyone for any post – from sifting through resumes and CVs through to agreeing a salary which your charity can afford - still holds just as true as ever!

Who this Book is Intended For

This book is intended for people who work for charities who need to employ a database manager. You could be an existing Database Manager looking for an assistant, a Fundraising or Membership Manager who needs someone to look after their database, or an Operations Manager who needs a new Database Manager and so on.

You do not need to be a technical person to apply many of the ideas in the book, although there is no point in denying that it might well be difficult for you to fully decide if someone is a good Database Manager if you cannot understand some of their slightly more technical responses to your interview questions. In which case, having someone on hand who can offer advise on that can be a great help; very often, the outgoing incumbent can be an option or someone from your IT staff; and I know other charities who have used trustees, other technical staff from their charity, or a manager from another charity even; and of course consultants like myself can help with the whole process.

Because I am writing it for charities and nonprofit organisations, there is a slant in some parts of the book towards fundraising and membership because such areas are so central to nonprofit organisations. But you should be able to use it just as successfully for any Database Manager you want to employ in your charity.

I hope you find it useful.

To download the book...

... Just click on the following button; don't worry, it only takes a few seconds:

Monday, April 18, 2011

9 Guaranteed Ways to Improve the Use of Your Database : Part 2

This is the second part of my blog on guaranteed (really!) ways to improve the use of your database. (But please do refer to my first part for a couple of caveats on the Ease, Time and Cost points...)

6. Instigate a structured training (and learning) culture

One of the most common complaints from end-users of CRM systems is that they have not received sufficient training. The training may have come from the person who’s job they were replacing, it may have come from someone else entirely who knows a bit about the system, it may come from someone who has been at the charity for years and is still following processes which are way out of date. Or they may have just been given an old, dog-eared collection of papers and told that is the user manual – or they may not have had any training at all!

If you want your database to be better then you need people to use it as it is intended. And therefore you need to train them. Properly. By people who know what the database should be doing, who know what the latest processes are, who have the time to train someone, who are happy and comfortable training someone - and, of course, training someone who has the time and inclination to learn. Being trained on your organisation’s database should be part of someone’s induction plan when they join your charity.

I also distinguish between a 'training' and a 'learning' culture: individuals should be encouraged to learn more about the system(s) they are using. This isn’t necessarily easy! Why should they bother learning something or asking more about something or wanting to improve something if it doesn’t help them with their job? So make it so that such practise does help them with their job. If they can’t do something on the database then encourage them not to remain quiet but to tell someone. If they have a good idea then get them to tell someone. The more people learn about what is possible on a database then the more they, you and the organisation will get out of it.

Ease: No technical skills, but needs Senior Management support Time: On-goingCost: Free

7. Create reports (and dashboards) your users and managers really want

If you really want to improve the use of your database, then you need to give users and managers information which they really want. So ask them what information they want, ask them what would really help them in their every-day role and with their strategic role, ask them what is most important to them and what they have always wanted to know! You might want to “manage expectations” around this by explaining that you might not give them what they want tomorrow... but you will try! You might also find that they can’t get such reports because no-one is collecting the data they want. So they can then help you rectify that.

Then create reports which they can use. And dashboards – managers love dashboards.

Ease: Needs technical skills Time: Each report might take from a day to many days!Cost: Free if you can do it internally (Otherwise you'll need to pay someone)

8. Create a Business Analyst role

This is one of the best ways you can get more out of your data and database, but it is also one of the more expensive. Human Resources always is. But what a Business Analyst (BA) will bring you to your organisation, if you don’t akready have one, might change and improve the way you do things so that they will more than pay back their salary.

Because what a good BA can do is go out to the users and discuss their needs, ask the managers what information they want, examine the procedures and processes you have, work on strategic documents with your staff, analyse data, analyse the database, produce options for change, make recommendations and help implement. They can act as the “bridge” between your database team and your users.

I realise this might sound like some “impossible creature” to some people, but really, they can be one of the most important roles in any organisation. To have someone who understands data and databases and what they can and can’t do, but can talk to your users and understand their business is gold-dust. If you find someone who can do this for you, hang on to them!

I should also say that although I use the term "Business Analyst" and define it here as a specific role, if you have someone who can do this sort of work even if they are formally called the "Database Manager" or any other similar position, then that is just as valuable. It's the skills and process which are important, not the job title per se.

Ease: Can be quite difficult to find someone good Time: Permanent roleCost: Expensive, as in you need a full-time employee on a reasonable salary

9. Get rid of any Data Ownership hang-ups

I’ve blogged about this before, so to summarise here:

Many charities are now moving away from "data silos" and the concept of "owning one's records". Which is great news and about time. So the next time one of your users/colleagues/staff says to you, "I don’t want my contacts to be stored on a central database because I don't want anyone else to be able to contact them…" then this is the response I recommend you give them:

The fundamental problem with this is that if they don't store their contacts on the central database (and instead, for example, keep them stored in Excel) then, in actual fact, it will be impossible for them to stop anyone else contacting them - assuming that such contacts have - or will have - other relationships with your organisation which are already stored on the central database. For example, if your user is the events manager, then if any of their event registrants are also donors, volunteers, prospects, on other mailing lists etc and as such they are already stored on the central database, then how can the events manager stop them being mailed? No-one using the central database will know that they are also on the separate events spreadsheet. Moreover, they will probably need to be contacted sometimes by other users anyway.

And anyway, it isn’t “my data”, it is the charity’s data. Start using it for the holistic benefit of the charity.

Ease: In theory easy, but you get stubborn individuals! Time: Instant to instigate, may take time for everyone to buy-inCost: Free

I hope you find all these suggestions useful. They really will improve your database if you put them into practise in a structured and considered way.

And if you have any other suggestions then by all means leave a comment below.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

9 Guaranteed Ways to Improve the Use of Your Database

Each of the following processes will improve the use of your database - really! Some are simpler than others, some are free and some definitely require investment, some require technical skills and some just need a new business approach. But they are guaranteed to bring you benefits if you don't already follow such practises or you haven't implemented such functionality. And you can quote me on that!

I have also tried to indicate for each one how easy it is, how long it would take and how much it would cost. Please bear in mind these will of course vary depending on your specific requirements, your database, your in-house skills and so on. So don't quote me on those figures quite so much...

I have split the blog into 2 posts, so ideas 6-9 will follow in a separate posting.

1. Clean your data (and do a data audit)

It doesn’t matter if you have the best database software in the world – if your data is rubbish then you won’t be able to use the database efficiently. End of story. Because if you have records without key data, incomplete addresses, blank fields where they shouldn’t be blank, duplicate records, inconsistent data in the same field, different use of the same field, if you can’t store specific data items which your users need, unreliable data and so on and so on, then how can your users trust the database, how can they produce reports or do queries or segment the system properly or base decisions on correct data, plan their strategies and do their every day work.

So clean your data. Ideally, do a data audit: create a report which shows the different areas of your database, what fields you have, the type of data, record counts, counts on data items in key fields, data integrity issues and so on. Then you can plan your data cleaning exercise properly and in a structured way.

Ease: Not too difficult Time: Audit: 1-2 weeks. Data Clean: several weeks upwardsCost: Free if you can do it internally (Otherwise you'll need to pay someone)

2. Add data integrity rules

Following on from (1), we need to keep our data clean and one of the best ways to do that is at the point of data entry, and one of the best ways to help enforce good practise for data entry is to implement data integrity rules into the database. So, for example:
  • Ensure that a drop-down table (a.k.a. look-up or reference table) is used on fields which have a set or finite number of options within their data set. E.g. Counties, ethnicity, appeal code, type of interaction. (And don’t let end-users add their own codes to such tables!)
  • Make fields “Required” where they must have data recorded in them (e.g. an individual’s last name, a specific code). But bear in mind that if you do that, then there must be an option for all possibilities. E.g. if you make Post Code required then what does a user add if they really don’t know a contact’s post code?
  • Use defaults. For fields where there can be a default, add one. Users can over-write if appropriate.
  • Manage rules on date fields; e.g. don’t let dates get added which are after today’s date where this shouldn’t happen; e.g. date of birth.
  • Use calculated fields. e.g. Automatically calculate age based on date of birth, as opposed to asking a user to key that data.
  • Automatically populate fields based on other fields: e.g. gender based on title (where possible), cost centre based on fund designation.
  • Properise fields where possible and appropriate; i.e. with an initial capital letter. e.g. First Name.
And run “data integrity checks” against your database at regular periods. So where it isn’t possible to create a simple rule on a specific field, create a query/report whereby you can at least produce lists of any data anomalies. For example, appeal codes which shouldn’t be on specific record types, individuals marked as deceased who are still giving donations, UK counties on a record with a foreign country.

Ease: Often needs technical skills Time:  From a few days to on-going Cost: Free if you can do it internally (Otherwise you'll need to pay someone)

3. Don't allow people to use any spreadsheets instead of your database

If you have a database which your staff should be using then don’t allow them to use spreadsheets instead. As soon as the first, external spreadsheet is created, then the data integrity between the two will be lost. Data updates won’t be done, your other users won’t know about specific information now stored on that spreadsheet, you can’t keep tabs of communications with the people on the spreadsheet, there is no security on the spreadsheets etc.

Keep all data which should be on your database on your database. You may need to get a central message from senior management to help you enforce this but it will all be worthwhile.

Ease: Easy to start! (Can be harder to enforce...) Time:  Immediate... but then on-goin Cost: Free

4. Automate what isn't automated

This will always help your database, whether it is for the database team or the end-users. If you can automate something then it will be quicker, more efficient, more accurate, more timely and really optimise what a database is for.

For example: Gift aid claims, reports, mailings, acknowledgement letters, exports to fulfillment houses, importing data from fulfillment houses, extracting data for your finance system.

Ease: Need technical skills Time: Depends on task but each will probably take timeCost: Free if you can do it internally (Otherwise you'll need to pay someone)

5. Integrate it with your web site

If you take online donations, accept online event registrations, let people sign-for newsletters or if you would like to let your supporters update their own address and contact details, opt-in/out to specific communications etc, then you need to update your fundraising/CRM database in one way or another with such data. If you do it manually at the moment then the time and effort is likely to be pretty high.

Integrating your database with your web site so that this can be automated in one way or another will bring great benefits. But it isn’t the simplest thing to do from a technical point of view, nor the cheapest. And you’ll need input and co-operation between different teams so it may not be the easiest in that way either and may take some time.

But if you can automate such integration then you will save so much time and effort internally and add some great data capture, so that the benefits you can get from doing so may well outweigh the cost.

Ease: Often difficult Time: Allow several months from start to finishCost: Potentially high

In the next post, I will consider training, reporting and the benefits you can get from a business analyst.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Fundraising Software for arts organisations: Software Options

In part one of this blog, I considered if Arts Organisations needed a different approach to incorporating and using fundraising software compared to “classic” charities. If you haven’t read that post then I would encourage you to do so now – this second post will still make sense without doing so but you’ll get more understanding of my thoughts behind some of it if you do read it.

What are the Pros and Cons of an Integrated Database for Arts Organisations?

This may sound like a slightly stupid question – I mean, what could be the downside of having a single system?! And isn’t it obvious why a single system is better?

First, the benefits:
  • All contacts are in one, single database. Fantastic! And this of course is the core benefit. You don’t have to transfer data between systems (and no matter what anyone tells you, that does take time, technical knowledge and money), you don’t have to ask someone else to check if a donor is already on the membership database. All your staff can access all the key data about each contact – it is easy to look someone up and find out their relationship and history with your organisation.
  • You will avoid the embarrassment of one of your staff contacting a prospect for £50 when someone else is about to ask them for £50,000 (etc). You can manage all your data protection needs, opt-in/outs, mailing preferences et al all in one place.
  • Your staff will only have to learn the user interface of one system. Very nice benefit.
  • You can do cross-marketing far more easily. With all contacts in one system, you can analyse, segment, target and contact groups of people far more easily than you can do if you have the records in different systems. You can of course extract records from multiple systems into one “marketing database” but that still requires time, effort, usually a fair degree of technical nous and the ever-recurring need to identify duplicate records across the systems.
  • And thus, you have the foundations for an achievable, central contact strategy – a real “CRM” strategy. That’s amazing.
  • With a few exceptions, most of the suppliers of these sort of systems are not the large (sometimes multi-national) companies which can be found in the charity sector. So if you are not a large arts organisation, then if you buy an integrated database from a mid-size supplier, you may well have a closer relationship with them. (And before all the large suppliers scream, I know this isn’t always the case! But I do know that some small-mid size arts organisations I have worked with like the smaller suppliers. Plus, read my final downside below…)
But, there are possible downsides:
  • I still have yet to see an Integrated Database for an Arts Organisation where the functionality, ease-of-use, reporting and so on is equal to or better than the functionality, ease-of-use, reporting and so on in the best, stand-alone fundraising, membership, ticketing, event or CRM systems. And this is therefore probably the biggest decision you need to make: do you accept that you may not get all the wonderful and highly sophisticated features which you would find in a dedicated fundraising database and you may not get the beautiful interface of some of the online CRM/event software systems – but you will get a single system with all your data in one place. This, I believe, sadly, is the compromise. (Suppliers – you are welcome to challenge me on this! And I would love to be proved wrong! But at the moment, that is my belief and experience).
  • Change Management. Implementing an organisation-wide system requires a serious and structured approach to change management in the organisation. Do not under-estimate that! It will force people to think about things they have never had to think about before because, before, they only had their team to worry about. Don’t forget this.
  • Security. If you have a single system, then you might find that there is some data on some records which some staff should not have access to. Some systems will be able to manage that, but not all.
  • You may need a Database Manager. Ironically, if you have previously had separate systems, then you may not have needed a person in your organisation to act as the “database manager”. A single system will almost certainly mean you do need such a role. Not necessarily a technical person, but someone who can centralise data integrity rules, add codes to look-up tables, create policies and procedures, understand the more complex parts of the database for “cross-marketing” etc, and be the “go to” person for all the other staff for when they forget how to do something or want to know how to set-up a new event or campaign.
  • There may be other costs you didn’t have before. E.g. does the new system require a larger, dedicated server? Does it require additional, third-party software? Will you have to re-vamp your web site?
  • With a few exceptions, most of the suppliers of these sort of systems are not the large companies which can be found in the charity sector... So you may run the risk that a small supplier will go out of business or cannot invest enough to create newer systems for newer technology as that comes along.

And what about a Stand-alone Fundraising Package?

Not surprisingly, the pros and cons of dedicated fundraising databases are primarily the opposite of above. There are some great, extremely sophisticated fundraising software databases available and you should be able to do all your development on them. They of course vary a great deal in price, functionality and quality, but they do come in all sizes and price ranges from £100 upwards. (See more below on the Resource Listings). And it is “simpler” to buy in that you only have to worry about one team, one set of requirements, one budget etc.

But of course if you implement a dedicated fundraising package (or any other stand-alone database within your operations) then it will primarily only provide benefits to that department. If one of your prospects or donors is also on the box office system or email list held on the web database, then you will only know if you look or try to synchronise data between systems. And you can’t stop someone else in the organisation from contacting your key prospects because if a prospect happens to “enter” your organisation through a different route, then your other staff cannot always be expected to ask you every time they meet someone if they are an important prospect or donor.

Of course, this is not a problem unique to the arts but, as I mentioned before, because of the likelihood of multiple operational databases existing in an arts organisation, it tends to be more common and the problem more pronounced.

So Should You Buy an Integrated Database?

I personally believe in single, central databases. Not just for arts organisations, but for all not-for-profits.  I think the benefits usually outweigh the downsides. And if you have the option, then I would always at least consider this possibility.

As I say above, you may well need to compromise on some functionality, some ‘look and feel’ or some ease of use. But if you can do this then, as I say, at least consider them.

And if you find one which is right for you then that’s great. If not, then at least you looked. And if you cannot compromise on a specific requirement and you don’t think that any integrated system can meet your needs then of course you shouldn’t necessarily buy one. I am not saying buy a single system above all other considerations. But do look.

Resource Listings

In addition, for very small arts organisations who really do just want a simple, low-cost fundraising or membership database, then the following are options as well:

And because they offer an alternative approach to the traditional packages listed above, some organisations might also find it useful to consider a “generic” CRM solution, especially as they are being implemented by the not-for-profit sector more and more and with increasing support from suppliers specialising in providing “templated solutions” for fundraising and membership requirements. Note that the real costs for these systems comes more in the implementation than the software.
  • CiviCRM: Open Source constituent relationship management system with membership, event management and more. Great system but probably not for the beginner in terms of set-up.
  • Salesforce: Salesforce is a “generic” CRM system which is gaining plenty of users in the NFP sector because it is free for the first 10 licenses and reduced pricing thereafter. And it is web-based so lots of benefits from that.
  • Microsoft CRM: MS CRM is also a “generic” CRM system, and again with lots of NFP users. Cheap Microsoft pricing for charities.

A Final Note to Suppliers

If any suppliers want to add Comments below on any of the above then by all means please do so. All constructive comments are welcome (and a link to your site is fine) – any blatant sales pitches will be removed!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Fundraising Software for Arts Organisations: What Can You Buy?

With the Arts Council announcement last week of cuts in funding for many organisations, fundraising is going to become more important in the years to come. So what options to arts and cultural organisations have when it comes to database/CRM technology for fundraising?

To answer this, I am splitting this blog into two posts: first to consider the background to how fundraising software fits in to an arts organisation’s structure and secondly to examine the pros and cons of different approaches and provide some resources which list specific software which organisations could consider.

And why am I doing this, instead of just simply listing software options? Because that is often one of the fundamental mistakes that arts and not-for-profit organisations make: just looking at fundraising software in isolation of other data, other operations and contacts, and other requirements. And as that is where so many organisations can go wrong, I wanted to address that first.

Is Fundraising for the Arts different to other Charities? (And Does this Matter When Buying Software?)

My experience is that the answer to this is Yes and No. Yes in particular because the arts audience is very different: most prospective donors will either have come to an event, visited an exhibition (or sponsored an exhibition), bought a ticket for a show or have a very close link to the arts organisation; and so on. I know that is a slightly sweeping statement but my point is that I don’t find many arts organisations doing large individual giving campaigns, street fundraising etc.

And of course the fundraising for a theatre or arts centre is therefore a different “type of ask” compared to “classic” charities. You are not asking someone to help cure cancer or care for an abused person; you are asking someone to give money to something they have enjoyed (aesthetically) or believe in or want to support for wholly different reasons to health, child care etc.

And Yes-ish in that the type of fundraising is often mostly oriented to big gift fundraising, corporate revenue, trusts/grants and lots of events of all sorts. This isn’t specifically different to other charities, it is more a sub-set of other fundraising.

But of course No, in that the sort of work an arts fundraiser is doing will still be the same as a charity fundraiser: building relationships, recording contacts, making proposals, asking for gifts, claiming gift aid, writing mailshots, using the web and so on and so on.

So does any of that matter when it comes to databases and technology? Only so much in that some elements of the CRM will need to be strong for the key arts requirements and other aspects may not be so critical. But the fundraisers still need good and specialised software of some sort…

But there is one other key point within Arts Organisations which can impact software selection/solutions and that is the Other Areas of Business which an arts organisation is more likely to need to manage.

The Different Areas of Operation in an Arts Organisation

It is highly likely that an arts organisation will have different areas of operation outside the fundraising or development office. For a start, the box office/ticket sales. Then they may do event/room hire; press and PR of course; individual membership for many organisations; corporate membership maybe; patrons. Then there are the lenders, the artists, curators, key funders… and more. And as I mentioned above, many such interactions revolve around events.

Now of course some charities will have “other operations” as opposed to just fundraising, but my experience of arts organisations is that their “operational requirements” in terms of the need for IT/database/CRM systems are wider than most charities of a similar size. And yet, and here is one of the key issues for arts organisations, even though so many of those constituents I list above may be inter-linked and cross-over between different areas, and even though organisations would like to “cross-market” and create an organisation-side CRM strategy, historically, many, many arts organisations have created data silos (i.e. separate databases and systems) for each team and each area of operation.

And that is therefore a key thing which should affect and impact on the decision process in how an arts organisation approaches their fundraising and fundraising software requirements.

The Different Technology Approaches an Arts Organisation Can Take

In the second parts of this blog, I will go into more detail as to what options an arts organisation has in terms of fundraising database/CRM technology, but briefly, here are my two main categories:

i) An integrated database specifically designed for arts organisations (theatres, museums, arts centres etc): this encompasses a single database with multiple functions, usually incorporating features such as fundraising (development), membership, patron management, ticketing/box office functionality, event management and general contact management.
ii) A stand-alone fundraising database. i.e. a system only used by the development office with no functionality for membership, ticketing etc.

There is also a third option which is a “hybrid” approach to the above, whereby you might have a dedicated box office system with a separate “CRM” system for fundraising, membership, event management etc, and then, ideally, a link set-up between the two to share key data. (By the way, if that sounds easy then trust me, it really may not be!) For the purposes of this blog post I am not going to pursue this third option.

And a Final Note: Stop Using Excel!

If you currently use Excel for your “database” then stop! Don’t do it any more! There are packages I am going to list in the next blog posts which cost from £100 upwards. Use them instead! Please.

In the next post,  I will discuss the pros and cons of the above approaches and provide some resources listing different software packages.