In philanthropy management, data is the key to godliness. And accurate, complete and usable data is the food of Gods.
When I began in fundraising…many years ago…our data on donors was kept on index cards. Yes, little white cards, or color coded, depending on your offices level of sophistication. We kept demographic data: name, address, career related information on these cards. We kept the donors financial information on these cards. We kept information on the donors interests on these cards and their latest donations. And we kept a documentation of our interaction with the donor on these cards.
Maintaining these cards was easy. One file box. A few scribes. No one could use the card at the same time. No one could ‘erase’ the data without leaving evidence of it. If you referred to the card, unless it was not written on the card to begin with, you knew exactly who was speaking with whom. The worst that could happen was the box was lost, or the card.
Pulling data from these cards in any batch effort was impossible, or nearly so. It would require days of man hours to collect a report of who was interested in pediatric surgery, or who made a gift in the last year.
Then enter the computerized database. What a joyous feeling it was to actually have a system to collect data to and query reports from!
We jumped into using the database with both feet and soon learned that our headaches had only just begun. I don’t know of one philanthropy professional who is without a war wound, horror story or hairball of a database system, because of a rush forward into technology without restraint and with ignorance to the outcomes.
What I’ve learned on the battle field is summarized here in four key mandates. (more…)