Common uses and a better way
Common use: Recording gifts and keeping addresses. If this is all you're using your donor database for, you're using it wrong.
Better use: Beyond keeping transactions and addresses, you can keep notes from visits. Record birthdays, areas of interest, hobbies, and when people like to be solicited. Used well, donor database system can be use to honor donors.
Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest)
Common use: Posting updates about a nonprofit.
Better use: The power in social media is realized when you start interacting with others. Liking other posts and commenting appropriately (not promotionally). If you come to the social media party, don't be the guy that is so self-absorbed he only talks about himself. Be genuinely interested in other people. Share other organization's posts. Be social.
Common use: Bragging about your organization and just talking about your people or work.
Better use: A better use for email newsletters is to show donors what their gifts make this possible. You need to be explicit. Rather than showing them by talking about your nonprofit, you need to make donors the hero. Afterall, if they didn't give, you wouldn't be able to do anything. (For an amazingly simple way to do this, check out this quick video from Tom Ahern: http://bit.ly/AhernNewsletter.)
Take time to re-examine
As you can see, the "wrong" use is less about total misuse as it is about settling for partial use. It's not like using a screwdriver to pick your teeth, or trying to twist a screw with a toothpick. It's more like having a Lamborghini and only going to the corner store.
We're 12 weeks into the year. Just about 25% gone. Now is a great time to reassess the tools you're using. Perhaps you could set a calendar reminder to do this every 12 weeks. One time you may want to examine digital tools. Another you may want to assess your use of meetings or "annual" performance reviews. Another time, your use of the facilities you have.
If you need some other ideas, check out this thread on Facebook.
What about you?
Have you recently recognized some tools you're using wrong? Please share your breakthroughs in the comments below!