Tag Archives: data management

Charities Cause Fund Development to Fail!


Mara Leopard

It’s not what an organization does to succeed but rather what it doesn’t do that places it at risk. No charity intentionally follows a formula for failure or works towards mediocrity when it comes to developing funds. How then does failure or mediocrity happen?

There have been many articles alluding to problems facing the non-profit sector. In particular, the issue of staff turnover in the fundraising role has been identified as a major problem for charities.

To keep the right staff, regardless of the type of business, an organization needs to create an environment where staff can succeed and use their time effectively. Greater success means more dollars for programs and salaries. In most cases, this success manifests itself in greater staff retention.

The non-profit sector often neglects to provide this type of environment. Instead, they bring new hires into a plethora of ‘this and that’ with no concrete definition of how things get done. Information is everywhere—and in disarray. New hires often have a mandate to make changes and decisions which they are unprepared to make, negatively affecting operations.

Examples of poor results are endless as charities search for funding and the right formula for success, and not just survival.

Some problems might already be well entrenched, with new ones to be introduced. Do any of the following situations sound familiar? 

  • A new staff member is hired to work special events. With no guidance they make decisions about how the event will be presented to the public. The use of a web-based system to accept ticket sales, a spreadsheet of auction items and a list of sponsors provide their tools. The outcome for the following year is chaos as none of the current year’s information was captured in a useful form.
  • The grant writer left and what they left behind was a spreadsheet and some notes. The new hire requested a list of all grants received, declined and in process over the last 5 years. The task was onerous and the results were incomplete.
  • The charity sent out a new holiday information piece at Christmas to the usual donors. The new fundraiser decided to record all gifts as unsolicited. The charity lost its ability to do any form of comparative analysis or determine the effectiveness of the appeal.
  • Staff acquired the contact list used by the previous fundraiser but there was little hope in understanding who these people were, if they were still active contacts or what role they played in helping the charity.
  • The charity has monthly donors. Some monthly gifts had continually been declined. Did the fund development department connect with the donor to get more information? The donor may have wanted to continue with a monthly gift, or was there a change of heart or maybe it was something else? No policy had been established to address the situation so ‘just let it go’ became the policy of the day.
  • The last fundraiser didn’t connect with staff entering donations data. Gifts were entered without any fund allocations and appeals were set up incorrectly.  Now they have data but it’s not an effective stewardship tool.

The most damning situation of all is where new staff arrive only to find a black hole rather than a wealth of information and knowledge. How easily can they resume the job of fund development when they will need to spend considerable time trying to reconstruct the past in order to move forward?

Implementing information-management practices

These problems are not those of the fundraiser but rather of the charity which has chosen not to establish concrete information-management practices. Implementing change may not be welcomed when practices have been established on an ad hoc basis, however, this is where the good of the charity takes precedence over inconsistent methods. People come and go, when they leave a legacy of their contributions it helps sustain a charity, when they don’t it puts the charity at risk.

It is senior management, with the blessing of the board that needs to establish the rules of engagement. These expectations, when hard-coded for all players from executive director to receptionist, provide the basis for achievable goals and objective performance reviews. They make all staff accountable for their compliance to best practices designed to benefit the charity. In particular, it is those involved in fund development that need to explicitly understand these roles. Fund development and ultimately fundraising are key functions and when these areas suffer so does the charity.

It’s our position that each and every staff position should be well defined with specific tasks that ensure a department functions within the context of the business as a whole. Where we have noted a failure to perform is where there are no well-documented expectations and instead there are general guidelines which a staff member may choose to follow in any manner they consider reasonable. This is where fund development gets into trouble as each person’s understanding of what is expected varies.

No one intentionally neglects important contributions to a charity and its knowledge-base, but some have been better prepared to meet their organization’s expectations than others. This may be due to a better understanding of the importance of information and how it affects activities today and opportunities tomorrow.

And how important is fundraising?  Can a charity do without it?  Just examine the percentage of charitable dollars a charity needs to raise annually to understand the gravity of this question.

Can a charity do ‘it’ better?

The answer to this question is ‘it depends’.  It depends on senior management and their resolve to endorse and support change. It depends on whether the board and management understand the need for a business approach to information management and particularly as it relates to fund development activities. It depends on whether the charity wants to thrive or just get by. It depends on whether the charity has been able recognize practices that cause it to under-perform.

To engage a high performance, fund-development team a charity must first look at the environment they offer to ensure continuity and sustainability.

For High Performance Fund Development Staff A Charity Needs a High Performance Environment

Winter 2013 leaves CostaRicoYou’ve just hired a new fund development manager. On paper, it looks like a good decision. Once they are in place its important to assess their performance. This can be difficult when the elements of their job are not clearly defined. Determining if a new staff member fits into a high performance mould can only occur when those at top levels in management have designed the specifications required to build and maintain high performance working environment.

It is all too common to find employees with job descriptions defined at a very macro level, leaving the actual day-to-day work to be re-defined and changed with every new staff member. This scenario allows for lost information, very poor data management, undocumented procedures (or no procedures at all!) and an overall disaster. Without the right level of leadership, staff may be left entirely out on a limb, without the resources they need to efficiently manage their time and succeed in their job. How then, can you truly assess their performance when their time might be eaten up with busy work and productive actions take a back seat?

Information management tends to be a major issue that is overlooked and under addressed in many charitable organizations. Dollars in, relationships with donors and advocates, research and more are directly impacted when there are no specific guidelines on how to record and retain information to ensure compliance and support accountability; attributes of a high performance environment.

Take a look at your organization and consider your information gathering functions. We are focusing on information and fund development because charitable dollars are a charity’s lifeline and processes concerning its management are often overlooked.

In our experience, the lack of detailed job descriptions to define the expectations of a particular staff role, are often far too open-ended. These expectations are the basis on which consistency, compliance and accountability can be determined and where there is a lack of framework, staff are forced to make decisions they may not be qualified to make; at which point, assessing their performance becomes more difficult because omissions that arise may be tied to organizational problems and not the employee’s capabilities.

It takes time and effort to assess and document the tasks that are important to the success of both your staff and your organization. In a system with no specific requirements and methods, individual staff will each come up with their own processes, which may add to confusion, inefficiency, poor outcomes and less than satisfactory results. Put one, two or three people through the same job over the course of several years and you wind up with a chaotic environment where information is both everywhere and nowhere.

One fact remains consistent; you cannot assess a staff member’s overall performance if some of their most basic tasks have not been defined. We place the onus on senior management to design systems that address all departments, allowing the charity to create a high performance work environment to support high performance hires!

Spring Cleaning: Preparing the Database


Goldfish in a Buddhist Lake

To begin any job, you need the right work environment.  For this project, cleansing the address information in the database was a focal point that would set the stage for all future work.

The Task:  There are two levels of cleansing related to donor address records. First, using the @EASE format we removed unwanted punctuation, ensured address data was housed in the proper fields and corrected typing errors. This put the database in a form where it could be sent to an address cleansing business for a postal code and change of address check up. These corrections were returned and imported along with a code for each record describing the results.

Correct address information is essential if a charity wishes to contact their donors. @EASE uses a unique method to handle address data separating fields for all major address components.  The program assembles these components to create a mailing address compliant with Canada Post whenever an export is requested.  This strategy makes addressing easy to manage and it’s quick to find problem areas that need correction.

It’s not commonly known that address features are determined by each municipality. For example, adding the ordinal suffix ‘th’ for 4 Street in Calgary is incorrect while adding ‘th’ to 11th Ave W in Vancouver is correct. Keeping addresses in good form takes time and effort; a job no computer can do as well as the person in charge of data entry.

With address cleansing completed, the next step was to look for duplication.  Duplicates are master records of organizations and individuals which have been entered more than once.  Naming strategies often contribute to this problem.  In some cases duplicates were the result of an improper or non-existent lookup prior to entering a new donor record.

Six main issues arose when identifying duplicate records:

  1.  Establishing a procedure to ensure data entry staff performed an adequate lookup to see if a donor already existed, prior to adding a new record. Using a wild card search particularly for company names, service clubs or church groups. Checking by postal code for names like Smith, Brown
  2. Ensuring that complete names are sourced when a donation is received or a contact entered.  Understanding that a few extra seconds at the point of entry makes a big difference is important to impress upon staff. Knowing your donors and contacts helps to ensure better quality data entry.
  3. Defined naming standards for groups like businesses, banks, service clubs, churches, & unions.
  4. Providing a resource area in the KMS to record web-sites and other resources to lookup complete names for groups like service clubs, and banks.
  5. Employing methods on all input forms whether printed or electronic to get better information including whether a donor has given before or is new, helps with address changes.
  6.  Accurate keying and a quick check before moving on will improve data quality.

The task of clean up was extensive.  Many years of staff turnover created duplicate donors who were in fact the same organization and entered more than once.  Duplicate organizations were provided with a standardized naming convention.

Examples like Telco companies with multiple offices were brought down to one organization by using the Other Address option.  Service clubs like Rotary were updated to use the naming standard shown on their website.

This work continued for several weeks and involved staff and volunteers to clean up as many duplicates as possible.  Was the task complete?  The answer to that was no, but we were in a good position to identify and resolve any areas missed.

Creating standards helps prevent or at least circumvent the problem of entering duplicate donor master records.  A master record identifies a unique donor and is linked to their gifts.  When more than one master record exists finding information like total donations for a given donor, becomes impossible.

Developing a standard for entering organization names helps to address what type of information is required.  A donation allocated to a group simply called Knights of Columbus begs us to ask … which K of C group is being credited.

Rules of entry become rules of “what to ask” or “when to source more complete information” when an organization interacts with a charity and where an accurate identity is inconclusive.

Service clubs, churches and church groups come immediately to mind when you think of naming convention issues. Less obvious are the names of businesses where the addition of the word “The” to the name of a business or not, can create duplicate entries.

Suggestions that we offered used the web as a resource.

Here are a few examples.

Most service clubs have a branch number associated with their name.  In most cases service clubs have standardized their naming strategy.  Here’s an example of how Rotary International identified correct names for groups in Edmonton Alberta Canada .  The club name showed as Rotary Club of Edmonton followed by the group’s name, not the name of the group followed by Rotary Club.

Royal Canadian Legions have a unique number for each group; the Ladies Auxiliary shares the same number.  When receiving a donation from either group, the number should be included as part of the name to prevent confusion or the inability to credit the donation correctly.

Churches can be difficult when dealing with multiple communities as church names could be identical.  The use of Parish is another area to be explored.  Is the parish the same as the Church?  Decisions need to be made and documented.
We have recommended the use of the EaseKMS to record decisions that affect data integrity like naming strategies. Whatever the decision is, it needs to be part of the basic training for existing and new staff members.

The use of a Resources folder that contains listings of group websites is beneficial when more information is required.
Addressing for all service clubs and church groups can be a further area of discussion.  How often is the current address that of the current president.  We recommend that all service clubs have a Board Change quality so that new information can be updated on an annual basis.  Where possible, the groups PO Box or main church address should be used rather than personal information.  Phone and email become valuable when contacting individuals and a conscious effort to collect this information needs to be included as a policy and procedure.

@EASE provides the use of Other Addresses for all corporate master records. An ‘Other Address’ could be a branch office or simply a different building housing staff in the same city.  The ability to group a company and its participation with a charity around one master record rather than multiple records enables staff to keep information current, up to date and accurate.

There are some instances, where grouping a series of branches under one corporate master record would not suffice.  In the case of bank branches, we recommend that each branch be handled as a unique corporate record, linked by an @EASE membership to show the bank’s full participation.

Managing data of any kind is not easy. When dealing with people and companies, information requires thought and standards to ensure the charity has the best information possible.  Periodic monitoring is advantageous to ensure standards are being adhered to.

The Perfect Storm

Nothing seems more mundane than discussing a donor database. It is, however, a discussion that more clients are having as they realize the value of quality data in their search for funding.

Really, what is the purpose of a donor database?  It keeps track of your donors and what they have donated. It provides a spot for notes and relationships; and it records receipts and gifts designated to specific areas. Okay, this all sounds good but is just being good, good enough or is good really complete.  These are the questions we helped answered for a client who wanted to take their donor database to the next level.

The client is a progressive charity that supports a vulnerable sector within our city.  They have recently expanded their services.  Their funding comes from private individuals, companies, service clubs, associations and foundations.  Government does not fund them.

The renewed interest in the management of their donor data was two fold.  First was the issue of acquiring more dollars to support their programs; the second issue dealt with better use of staff time as some tasks seemed to take far more time than one would deem reasonable. This takes time away from more productive activities and can impact on morale and some other periphery issues that they wanted to alleviate.

A key factor that motivated this renewal was their management team.  They had the perfect storm in a positive way.  They had a group of managers who were all on the same page, keen to make improvements and willing to put in the effort to make change happen.

This situation was a consultant’s dream. No deadwood, speed bumps or road blocks to deal with, just a group of individuals open, interested and ready to commit to working smarter not harder in the pursuit of their common goals.

More and more, we see clients who come forward to make a strategic change in how they view and manage the use of their donor database. They need to take data from a keyboarding input task to a fund development level.  At a fund development level there are many more things that can be done at the point of entry of any piece of information that makes it useful now and valuable in the future. Data is no longer one dimensional but multi-dimensional relative to its use as an entrepreneurial resource and a source of intelligence.