Next Text Talk on October 1, Focus: Data

Our addition to the NonProfit Capacity Building Program, “Tech Talk” networking has really been a nice addition to our training offerings. We’re now approaching our sixth meeting–but it’s still not too late to join in! If you’d like to be a part of it and haven’t yet signed up, reply to this post or Tweet us @ShiaNPCB or @awolber

The tech group will meet again on October 1st at 10:30 a.m. at the Child Abuse and Prevention Council (1216 West Main Street, Owosso 48867) where we’ll have a discussion about data — and databases.


Got data? Use it.  by Andy Wolber (@awolber)

“May I have your phone number?” he asks.

You’d expect to hear this at a networking or dating event.  Instead, a company has trained
cashiers to gather customer data ­­even when you want to buy a $2 item. . . with cash.  If you’re like me, you find the practice irritating.

Contrast that with Apple.  Walk into an Apple store with your iPhone, grab a gadget, scan the item with your phone’s camera, pay with the Apple store app, and walk out.  No employee interaction necessary.  Convenient?  Yes.  Did you give the company some data?  Of course:  Apple records when and where you made the purchase.

In both scenarios, a company gathers your data.  Yet the Apple experience provides a clear, immediate benefit: convenience.  You provide data and you also receive an immediate benefit.  (As an aside, the first time I paid this way it almost felt like shoplifting. That’s how accustomed I am to the rituals of cashier interactions.)

Data flows through every organization ­­yours included.  Board members and funders rely on
data to make decisions:  Hire?  Fire?  Build?  Fund?  Expand?  Change?  Close?  Each decision requires data.

Nearly every organization can improve how it gathers, stores, processes, shares, and secures client data.  In other words, you don’t have to be Apple to benefit from a focus on data flows.

1. Play data golf.

To play data golf, reduce the data you track to as few items as possible.  Remember: in golf, the low score wins.  (Do you really need a fax number field?)

2. If you ask, act.

Review each piece of data on your website and organization’s forms. What do you do with each piece of information?  Is the data “must have” or “maybe we’ll need this someday”? Clarify what action you take as a result of each field.

3. Where possible: store data that doesn’t change.

Record a birth date, not an age.  Ages change.  Birthdates, unless you’re a movie star or
fugitive,­­ typically don’t.

4. Don’t ask twice.

A donor shouldn’t have to provide their address twice ­­ ever. If a person provides an address
when they purchase a ticket, for example, they shouldn’t have to provide their address again when they make a donation.

5. Consolidate systems.

Ideally, your organization would have one master system to store everything.  In reality, most organizations have a few separate systems: a financial system, donor database, and program and/or event database.  These should connect or share data, where appropriate. (For example, a consistent way to export, then import data from one system to another.)

6. You track, you benefit.

Make sure the people who provide data benefit from the data.  This can be tricky:  if a funder requires a specific report, you need to figure out how the data will benefit the people you serve.  A classic example: an organization where employees track time and the data are used to allocate grant funds among activities. If people who track time don’t see a clear benefit from the activity, at best you’ll get estimated data.

7. Client “self-service” (or: my data, my update).

Wherever possible, allow people to update the information you have stored.  For example, a person could log in to your website to update their personal information, such as address or contact information.

8. Honor communication preferences.

Let people to connect with your organization on their terms.  Don’t build your system around a single type of data, such as email address (unless you provide an email­-based product, of
course!).  Many people prefer to receive info via texts, Tweets, or even old-fashioned postal mail.  Support as many channels as possible, and customize your messaging to fit the characteristics of each channel.

Next steps?

Grab your organization’s forms and look at your website.  What do you see?  What can you do to improve your organization’s data flow?

For additional information on choosing and using databases, see my mindmap. Click the ‘+’ to expand items, and click the arrow to the right of an item to follow the link.

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