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5 Tips for Managing Your Nonprofit’s Database

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As any nonprofit manager knows, development campaigns generate a tremendous amount of data about prospects, donors, and ongoing projects. If not carefully managed, this data can quickly become an overwhelming tangle. A clean, up-to-date database is the lifeline of all nonprofit organizations, but requires careful maintenance and planning.

Here are 5 simple planning and maintenance tips that you can use to manage your database:

1. Decide what information you’ll track. A database takes up valuable storage space on your hard drive, so be clear about the type and amount of data you’ll need. Remember that your data will have to meet different needs for different staff members and assign access to it accordingly.

2. Designate maintenance responsibility to one person. Select someone motivated and well-trained to understand the database functions, and to use them well. If you do not have a designated staff member or volunteer to do this, find one. This will save you time that you will be able to focus on other administrative tasks.

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. Computer spreadsheet software makes this process easier than ever before, there is even special software specifically for nonprofit database management.

5. Play it safe. Back up your data often and develop a recovery plan in case of system crashes or other unexpected events. Use strict security measures to regulate who can access the data and when. Consider using password protected systems that only your staff and volunteers can access to store data.

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.

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