Designing what works for you

I often hear colleagues ask one another, “Is this the RIGHT way to use our database?” Or maybe the question is centered on just one field within the database like Attributes, Notes, or Relationships.

Before diving in, there is NO SINGLE RIGHT WAY to utilize the available fields in your database. Fundraising and donor management tools are built to be flexible in order to adapt to the needs of different types of organizations. For Example: Raiser’s Edge is utilized by hospital foundations, orchestras, universities, community groups, and many other types of nonprofits. Yes, it has a certain backbone on which your organization builds, but it is clearly customizable for a variety of different purposes.

Now, for the “right” way to customize. Every organization I have worked with has used certain fields differently. And that’s to be expected! But to do it the “right” way, it has to be the right way for YOUR organization. Whether you recently signed on as a new database customer or your organization has been using the same tool for 30 years, you can still follow the same process for finding your right way.

  1. What do you need to know? Never start with developing new codes. Yes, it’s tempting to continue using a not-quite-right system and just add in the codes you currently need; but things get muddy this way. Say you had codes for donor, friend, and lapsed donor. All of a sudden it is suggested to add in a “prospect” code. Well, is the prospect a donor, friend, or lapsed donor already? How does this code fit in to your current system? Do you allow constituents more than one code? By determining what you need know about your constituents and mapping it out (donations, biographical information, education, professional experience, relationships, etc.) , you will have a much clearer picture of your goals for creating a system from scratch or implementing a new way to utilize what your organization already uses.
  2. How would you like this information stored? Now that you mapped out what you want to know, figure out WHERE it will be most useful within the record. Maybe you want a better way to capture and track participation at events or record how your organization communicates with donors. Either way, think about what you “want to know” and what you mapped out and determine where within your database it should be stored. Types of communications could be stored in an area for Actions. Maybe you have an events section to the constituent record.
  3. How do you plan to use/export the data? You’ve figured out what and where; now it’s time to confirm how the fields will be exported. Many databases have template reports. If you’d like to use these, make sure the fields you have chosen for your data are useful in activating the templates. There’s nothing worse than having a handful of reports available to you only to discover that the way you formatted your data doesn’t filter to these reports. This is also a great time to determine if any of your reports will draw duplicate records. Test, test, test!
  4. Based on use of data, what policies, procedures and codes are needed? Now that everything is so neatly assigned, it’s time to figure out how to keep it that way! Think about the different scenarios that could occur. Think about future codes that could be required. It may seem silly to think this way if you have a small team and are the only one who updates records. But you’ve already spent a lot of time and talent on creating the best system for your organization, so make sure it lasts!
  5. Document how and why the processes and codes are to be used. As you create a master document for the processes and procedures, make sure to test what you write and how you convey the information. Make sure to include definitions of codes, what reports you plan to use and the procedures for each piece of the constituent record puzzle. You want this document to stand the test of time. Whether you reference it based on new situations, use it for training new colleagues, or utilize it when the inevitable turnover happens, you want others to understand and follow the appropriate policies and procedures with adding constituents, gifts and relationship-building information. Just think, now you can take a vacation without getting an email or phone call asking how to code a gift!
  6. Go ahead and IMPLEMENT! You did it! Put those codes and processes into action. You created the right systems for your organization. Go use it and further your mission!

If you’re a little stumped as you go through the process, I’m happy to talk you through it. Feel free to reach out to me at! Happy planning and coding!

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