How Clean Is Your Data?

Files Tower imageIf you are like most nonprofits, your Director of Development has turned over every 1 ½ years.  Among the chaos that this turnover leaves at the organization is mayhem in your development tracking systems.  Each new Director comes with lots of energy to incorporate their favorite tracking method, follow-up processes and software package.  But, where does that leave the organization?  Often, with a mess of documents in different places, on different machines and with an admin staff that dreads each new hire.

What types of documents am I talking about?  A server filled with:

  • Prospect rating lists
  • Pledge probability forecast
  • Names and amounts with the official total
  • The publishable list of names in each giving category
  • List of names of those who have given since the last campaign newsletter update
  • The gift pyramid
  • Fundraising software (e.g. Raiser’s Edge, eTapestry, Donor Perfect, etc..)
  • Solicitor prospect lists
  • To do list for each solicitor including who is managing the solicitor
  • Next Steps

And this doesn’t even include the list of Thank You notes to be sent by the Executive Director (in this case a Head of School), thank you notes to be sent by the Development Committee Chairs, and the thank you notes to be sent by the Director of Institutional Advancement or Development.

The Solution?
As with most problems, the solution will be different depending on the amount of money vs. time you can throw at the problem.  You can hire companies to clean up your files.  You can try to hire responsible temps to do it.  No matter what, you will spend a portion of your ramp up time at the organization eliminating redundancies and consolidating documents.

Keep in mind a few things:

  • You will have to get your hands dirty. No matter who is sifting through the information, someone will have to make that final decision as to whether to keep the data active.  And that person should be you.  The positive side to this is that you will learn a lot about the organization and its donors through this process.
  • Don’t erase anything too quickly. Burn CDs or create long-term storage files on the server for extraneous files – just in case you mistake donor lunch preferences for take-out menus.
  • Don’t fix what doesn’t need fixing. You may have worked with what you consider the easiest, most effective fundraising software in the past, but that doesn’t mean it is better than the software that the organization currently uses.  Give the current systems a full chance – you may learn something new and avoid a lot of internal conflict.  You may just have to consolidate, organize and re-file into something that works for many years to come.
  • Anticipate resistance. If you are the third director of advancement in the administrative assistant’s tenure there may not be a lot of enthusiasm for “a new way” to manage data.  Tread lightly and be able to explain why the changes are necessary.  This will ensure you don’t change for the sake of change.

While this article started with a reference to the high turnover rate of development professionals, it should be said that cleansing your data and taking ownership of the process can help create higher job satisfaction.  And this may even translate into a longer stay, and one less organization that you will have to clean up.