There was a time when nothing beat a couple of good spreadsheets to make a director of an organization feel as though all the critical information for the org was at their fingertips. But not so much anymore. In fact, the proliferation of spreadsheets has produced a heightened probability that an organization could be losing its effectiveness in managing strategic activities.

Let’s look at an example involving a process familiar to us all: making an Annual Appeal mailing more effective. Let’s say you’d like to produce a custom appeal, targeting donors who have given between $250 and $350 in each of at least two of the past three years, but who haven’t yet given a gift this year. You would like to ask those donors in particular to consider coming in at the $500 level by the end of the campaign.

How easy would it be for your organization to produce this mailing? For smaller organizations, a task of this nature is at the very least daunting, if not completely out of reach. Donor lists are in one spreadsheet, and perhaps gift history is detailed somewhere else. Custom salutations and mailing addresses? Well, they’re in yet another file. For many organizations, if the task can be accomplished, it will result from a substantial drain on clerical resources.

A solution to the larger challenge represented in this simple example is to step back and develop a strong data collection and use plan. And the first step to any data management strategy is to define the outcomes. Get together with your key employees and determine what you would like to be able to do with information collected. If these outcomes, or purposes, are clearly defined, the answers as to what needs to be collected, and how it needs to be maintained, will be obvious.

Patron management is a critical component in the vitality of any not for profit. It is incumbent upon the successful organization to insure not only that it collects appropriate information, but that the information collected may effectively be utilized in the furtherance of the organization’s mission.

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