The mythical world of the charity database

Information concept: Data Management on computer keyboard backgr

In this first post on CRM systems Anthony Fawkes, Founder of Actually Data, talks through the misconceptions of the charity database and offers some top tips on how to make the most of your CRM database.

Along with my work with JustGiving member charities and helping them to integrate their JustGiving data into their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, I get asked on a more frequent basis about CRM systems in general. CRM is sometimes swapped for other acronyms such as DRM (Donor Relationship Management system), SRM (Supporter or Stakeholder Relationship Management) and even MRM (Membership Relationship Management).

There are many CRM products that claim that they can do lots of things for you to make your life easier so I thought that I would try and clear up some of the common misconceptions. If you are considering a new database to manage your contacts/stakeholders/members/donors, or whatever you may call the people or organisations that support your cause, there are some myths that I’d like to clear up.

CRM Data management

1. Databases magically make your data nice and clean.

If I had a pound for the number of times that customers say “well I thought all my duplicates would go away with this new database” or ”I thought all my addresses would be clean when in the new database”, I’d be a rich man. Data cleansing can be done, but it is a separate stage of the migration process. It is definitely worth doing and this is probably one of the easiest times to do it, however, it doesn’t happen automatically. Also bear in mind that an agency or computer will not know or understand your data as well as you do. Sometimes it is best to just migrate the data across so that you become familiar with using the system and then tidy up the records once they are there. By setting up categories and drop down lists properly in the new system your database can help you to keep your data clean going forward.

2. Databases reduce costs by themselves.

Whilst a database will be a central storage place for your data, it cannot on its own reduce costs until you’ve reviewed your business processes or put all of your data in one place. There are databases on the market that will make processes more efficient, for example integrating JustGiving data, or having reports that work straight out of the box where you were previously creating a file and manipulating the data in Microsoft Excel. With integration and process reviews your database can help you reduce costs going forward.

3. Databases tell you more than you already know.

If you put all your data into one system then it can make it easier for you to highlight the overlaps between teams or identify the supporters that are multi-faceted and have different relationships with you. I recently did a database implementation for a charity that was adamant that their service users never wanted fundraising asks. In fact, there was a 20% overlap already when the fundraising and services data was brought together. So having all your data in one place gives you a holistic view of your contacts. It can also make it easier to get data together for campaigns and measure how those campaigns perform. Your database can make it easier for you to discover and interpret the information you already have.

4. Putting your information into a database means it is less secure.

It’s probably one of the hardest realisations that “your data” is actually the organisation’s data and whilst you might think that they are “your contacts”, do you know who else in your organisation is communicating with those contacts about different issues? Having a database with proper user permissions set for staff, appropriate to their job role, can in fact make your data more secure than storing in it on your server, in spreadsheets, on pieces of paper in filing cabinets or just in your head.

5. Databases make coffee.

Databases are really good at storing data, which people then turn into valuable information. Whilst I’m sure some clever person out there could rig up their database to flip the switch on the coffee maker normally it wouldn’t, so be realistic about what you are expecting to get from your database. Once properly implemented and integrated into your working practices your database could just free up enough time for a daily run to the nice coffee shop down the road for a cappuccino.

I hope I have not only successfully debunked some of the myths about databases, but also pointed out some of the many benefits that having a CRM system can bring to your organisation. If your charity is considering implementing a new database system you may be interested in my upcoming post on helpful tips of what to think about when choosing which provider to go with.

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Anthony’s database management skills are complimented by knowledge and experience in the fields of data processing, training, software development, analytics and direct mail. He is a member of the Institute of Fundraising and speaks regularly at conferences and workshops on the subject of integration of charity data.