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Back in the early 90’s when automated databases were in their infancy, I remember talking to

a president of a large American airline about his journey on choosing and using a system. His side of the discussion revolved around that if he had the choice between selling his aircraft or keeping his database system he said “I can always buy more aircraft but the success of my business is down to its customers” ………. Surely a statement that resonates in the world of charities and not for profit organisations – nowhere more than fundraising.

Our organisations rely on managing, cultivating and using information to make things happen and accelerate the charity’s mission. Tracking, segmenting and understanding donors, managing communications, prospecting, reporting, even accounting are functions that can all be automated within a database. It is difficult to think of a business that does not rely on attracting income to survive, grow and service needs. Your database is a vital organ that enables a charity to operate efficiently even more so with the new GDPR regulations coming in to force in May 2018.

Here are 4 Questions you should ask yourself about how you use your database:

  1. How healthy is your database? – You should do a health check on what you are using your system for.

  • Are you using it to just store names & addresses? In which case it is little more than an address book.

  • Who is using it?

  • What disciplines are in place to ensure data is captured and logged correctly? We have all seen people who have their own little list of prospects and favoured contacts but don’t put it in to the organisations CRM system. In fast paced sales organisations this practice can result in a trip to the HR department!

  • Is your data clean? Are you setting data entry standards?

  • Complete an audit outlining how you currently manage data. Note any shortfalls, where are there gaps in work flows.

  • What metrics and reports are you getting that show performance and outcomes.?

  • Ask your users for their feedback on what they think.

2. Who will be your database Guru? – Give the responsibility to an individual (or small team) who will champion your system. There is always someone that is a ‘Power User’, so turn that passion in to a benefit for your charity. Make sure they have the time and resources to get under the skin of the system with accountability to people who will listen and take on board recommendations. Your database is an evolving management system that needs nurturing and understanding, make sure you have someone to care for it.

3. What do you really want it to do? – From time to time stand back and draw up a detailed plan of what you are trying to achieve. Things change. Your database is a powerful tool and you are probably only using about 20% of its capability. It’s not just for storing names and addresses.

  • You want to understand and communicate with your donors better. Don’t fall in to the trap of creating ‘Silos’, encourage donors to be multi-channel. It’s your job to make it easy for them.

  • You want to know how things are going. Your database should produce metrics to feed into your monthly KPI reports.

  • You want to manage your workflow. Using tasks correctly can really save you time and keep you focused.

  • It will help you establish a pipeline of where your potential/forecasted income lies.

  • Your database will link with third party Apps which will help you streamline processes and stay efficient. New apps are coming every week.

OK…so by now you should get the picture that the opportunities are pretty limitless. What I am saying is that unless you get structured and serious about managing and getting your information to work for you it won’t take you far. In reality you are leaving money and opportunities on the table!

4. What do you want it to tell you? Get your system to produce a health check and create a set of stable metrics that will report vital signs of the business. Here are a few pointers:

  • Where is the income coming from?

  • Comparisons to previous years.

  • Demonstrate ROI per donor segment.

  • Analyse conversion rates of campaigns.

  • Forecast future activities and how it relates against your forecasted income.

  • Ideally what you want is a ‘Dashboard’ that will present the daily snapshot of how things are going. Some databases have this built in, others you will need to develop.

Finally, I mentioned the ‘D’ word (discipline) earlier. Your system will only be as effective as the quality of information you put in. So make sure you have a clear, well understood method of using it and yes….rules will need to be set but train these in and get the team on board, it will save a lot of pain and make life easier in the long run.

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