This is the second part of a three part series on the executive director's role with a development database. The first part included Excel is not a database


by Sandy Wilder

In Part 1 of our series, we addressed the first of our issues regarding Excel vs. the database (no contest!). In this post, we’ll talk about the 2nd most common issue I hear.

"I’m not a computer person; I let my staff handle that."

You don’t have to be a geek

As an Executive Director, your primary role is as a consumer of the information (i.e. data) that comes out of the database. While no one would reasonably expect that you should be a pro at entering gifts or generating acknowledgements, you certainly have a responsibility to assure that these things are happening in a timely and consistent manner.

In your role as director and a development professional, you have every right to expect that the database can accurately tell you things like:

  • How much of the Capital campaign goal has been met?
  • How many people received our last direct mail appeal?
  • Of those, how many gave? How much did they give? What was the average gift?
  • How many alums who gave last year haven’t given yet this year?
  • How many memberships do we have as compared to this time last year?
  • Who has your development staff seen in the last 30 days?

Should you be expected to know how to make the database provide those answers? Not necessarily, and probably not. Your role is to pose the questions to your staff that you expect the database to answer. As a consumer of the information, it is your role to direct the database (you’re the Executive Director; get it?), not create it.

All of that having been said, you must be a consumer; you have a responsibility to consume the data! That means actually logging into the database, looking at some giving reports, checking on your staff’s development actvities, or spot checking to verify that information you know should be in the system is actually there, for example, a new multi-year pledge by a major donor that you secured last week.

You can’t just assume that the information is being entered correctly, consistently, and in a timely manner. That assumption can set you up for some big, painful surprises when the auditors show up, or when it’s time for that year-end holiday appeal.

Most database products provide relatively easy to run standard reports that can help you keep a bird’s eye view on the database. Some of the more sophisticated ones even offer automatically refreshing Dashboards that you can set-up once and then view periodically with up to the minute information. In either case, you don’t have to be a “computer person” to fill your role in determining the direction your database should go and to assure that it’s on the right track. Can you imagine an Executive Chef who doesn’t periodically taste test the food coming out of the kitchen?

Tomorrow in Part 3 I'll deal with supporting your staff and why you should resist the temptation of a board member creating a "custom" database.

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