Help! I Inherited the Database From…

Frustrated
Image from Jon Watson

Can you relate to this scenario?

You just inherited a database(s) that is meant for you to track down donations, board members, visitors and everything else. Perhaps there are several files with repeated information or better yet, incomplete information. Sitting in the storage room are files of handwritten notes and check copies, none of which have been entered into a computer. Emails are going back and forth between you and other staff collecting bits and pieces of information making it a tracking nightmare.

So what do you do about when you are tasked with organizing your organizations database in a maze of information?

First, define a plan of attack.

Is the focus to improve on the database moving forward? Or is it necessary to change historical information.  A lot of organizations can just say “forget the past, I’m starting fresh tomorrow.” However, most cannot and they have a lot of cleanup to do.

Historical Data
Photo by Miri

How to Fix Historical Data.

First, don’t panic, move slowly through making manual changes. For fixing historical information, find the immediate priorities. Change only those that are needed right now.

Then when immediate needs are finished, start fixing historical information.

  • Edit anything in ALL CAPS.
  • Merge duplicates; researching duplicates that may be spouses. (DonorSnap provides many different duplicates reports as well as a Merge tool). Develop a standard of how to track spousal records moving forward.
  • Edit historical donations so comparative reports will be beneficial.
  • Inactivate deceased/inactive contacts.
  • Most nonprofits inactivate data entries after 3 years of no activity. Delete from the database after 7 years of no activity.

What is the purpose of the database?

Become familiar with the purpose(s) of the database; get acquainted with current donation programs — what mailings have gone out recently, what campaigns are running, talk to Accounting about their needs with running reports between the donor management system and their books.

Try this: Run a Donations Received report of the past checks, go back and change just those to the current and correct drop-downs, so the report is clear and concise.

Remove Duplicates
Photo by Ian Barbour

Get familiar with current database software.

Look at all the existing drop-downs for targeting contacts (how do you label a Contact as a volunteer or Board Member); how are donations categorized. If using a program like DonorSnap you can inactivate any non-relevant codes for appeals/campaigns/accounting codes (never deleting, you can always bring back if you have a question!). DonorSnap also allows you to HIDE (again, never deleting) entire fields that are no longer relevant.

Tip: Simplify the database to what codes you’re using now (and change historical information later, if needed).

Need to send an appeal mailing to the top donors?

Run a DonationStrata report (or other report that can give you Lifetime donations over a certain amount). Edit those contacts; Merge any duplicates ; make sure the mailing label for the contact is your current standard, and do a mailing.

Make a Cheat-Sheet.

Create a standard and cheat-sheet for all data-entry staff of what Codes to use for Contacts/Donations and a process for entering new contacts and adding donations. Create a mailing standard, how the names should be entered in the system and also how the mailing label should be addressed (in DonorSnap would be the Acknowledgement field).

Tip: Arrange a training with staff to go over the database procedures (they need to know this in case your out of the office)