A clean, up-to-date database is essential for all nonprofit organizations. Any development campaign generates a tremendous amount of data about prospects, donors, and ongoing projects—which can quickly become an overwhelming tangle if not carefully managed. A few, simple planning and maintenance tips can help shape that mountain of information into a powerful and useful tool.
1. Decide what information you’ll track. A database takes up valuable storage space on your server, so be clear about the type and amount of data you’ll need. Remember that your data will have to meet different needs of your staff members.
2. Designate maintenance responsibility to one person. Select someone motivated and well-trained to, not only understand the database functions, but also use them well.
3. Establish a system. The value of your database comes from the quality of the data you enter, not the quantity. Define specific, regular procedures for data collection, maintenance, and storage. Use clear definitions (“Campaign” vs. “Appeal” vs. “Fund”) and consistent naming conventions (“Advisor – Current” and “Advisor – Past” vs. “Former Advisor”) to keep data organized and easy to use.
4. Keep your database clean. Review your data regularly to be sure all information is up-to-date. Take care to accurately re-code as donor status changes, and delete any redundancies. Deleting useless files as you come across them will make it much easier for you to find the files you need.
5. Play it safe. Back up your data as often as you can, and develop a recovery plan in case of system crashes or other unexpected events. A document, photo, spreadsheet, etc. can disappear at any time. Performing a regular backup can be a lifesaver. Use strict security measures to regulate who can access the data, and when.
Remember: the purpose of any database is to store valuable information and keep it readily available when needed. A well-organized, regularly maintained database isn’t just easier to work with—it’s also a key information source for strategic decisions.