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Making your database work for you

Making your database work for you

So often we hear complaints about fundraising databases, that they will not do what fundraisers need and that fundraising is being hampered as a result. It’s easy to blame the database, but this is not a new phenomenon and has been the case for many years. So what is really going on here?

In the UK, there are many fundraising database packages on the market, some of which have been in use for decades in different versions. Today, the fundraiser seeking to buy one is often overwhelmed by choice and we are often asked which one to choose.

No database will do everything you want in exactly the way you would like. However, the well-known packages on the market will certainly cope with the vast majority of the needs of most fundraising charities. Unless you want to do something very unusual, the chances are that any of the mainstream packages will handle it.

Get your people trained

The main problem we identify is not so much that a charity has bought the wrong package (although this can happen), but that the people using it do not know how to use it fully, usually because they have not been trained properly.

Typically, when a charity invests in a new database, there is support provided by the software company to help it plan the setup and data migration from whatever files were in use before. Then some training is given in its use.

However, sometimes, not enough training is bought, so that users only grasp the basics and are unaware of the more advanced features. This is compounded by staff leaving and being replaced by others, who are expected just to pick up how the package works, without any further training. This is a false economy. A fundraising database can only be as effective as the people using it, so the answer to many database complaints is to get more training and to keep asking the supplier questions about how to get the best out of it.

Not training people properly can also lead to other problems down the line, such as discovering that data has been entered differently over the years by different people, rather than using one unified approach. This results in the classic “junk in, junk out” scenario, whereby the resulting data quality is poor – which of course hampers fundraising results.

Mine your data to inform fundraising

The other area we see where databases are not performing to their full potential is where the data is underused. This can be the case where a charity is not fully interrogating it to improve its segmentation or where valuable data is lurking in the files that has never been identified (for example, because the data has never been screened for wealth factors or for trustees of grant-making trusts). You need to be mining your data regularly to maximise its use for fundraising.

So the maxim with fundraising databases is to make sure you are investing in training your users properly (this will repay itself many times over) as well as in fully exploiting the data to hand. Failing to do either of these is wasting a precious resource and will reduce your return on investment every year.

If you would like to discuss any other aspect of your fundraising strategy, please ring for a free chat on 01903 723519 or email

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