Every nonprofit wants to have nice reports. Far fewer take the time to lay a good data foundation on which those reports are based. Ever heard the old saying “Garbage in, garbage out?” If the data in the database is garbage, then the reports will be garbage.

Let’s talk about the setup and work that goes into being able to create a solid, consistent database on which those ever-important reports can be built.

1. Review Data Entry Process

Most people do not get excited about data management, and even less do so about data entry. Usually, data entry is an after-thought, despite being extremely important.

How embarrassing is it when a major donor receives mail with a misspelled name?

If you want to be able to trust the reports, mailings, etc. then take a few minutes to review your organization’s data entry process. If errors are common place a review may help you discover where they are entering the system.

2. Cheat Sheets

It can be very beneficial to have a “guide” on how tasks should be performed. Not only does it create consistency for the organization, it makes it easier to share processes with new hires and new volunteers. Often a few minutes putting together a cheat sheet will drastically improve the efficiency when you have volunteers, staff turnover, or other disruptions that are inevitable.

3. Required fields

When setting up a database for a new customer, I often hear how important certain pieces of information are. “This is imperative” or “we simply MUST have…” are common phrases people use to describe these pieces of information. Ironically, they seldom take steps to ensure it is collected consistently.

I recommend that you make such important information be required. Be sure to ensure there is no “shortcut” someone can take leaving off the most important information. Many databases, online forms, and even paper forms can be setup in a way you indicate a piece of information is “required.”

Be strict – each time you “let it slide” and do not require an important data point, you weaken your database’s consistency and thus the reports you value.

4. Weak Forms

Many times people need information that is not on the form, especially online forms. Many organizations try to use bare-bones online forms that leave off important information in the hopes of increasing conversions.

If you want to print name tags for each person coming to an event do not leave a “loophole” where they are able to sign up without providing you a name. Seems pretty basic, but if your online or paper form allows more than one person to sign up at a time you need to ask for the additional person’s name. Often paper forms do not clearly indicate what the organization needs to know and what they would simply like to know. If information is required to run an event indicate it, or simply note what is optional information.

5. Ask For Information

Too often people are simply afraid to ask for information. There are obviously times and places to do it correctly. Put a little thought into where and when but plan to ask existing constituents for updated information and to fill in the gaps.

If you take the time to lay out a data strategy a better, cleaner database and reports are just around the corner.

How do you ensure your reports are clean and useful? Let us know in the comments below!


Eli Wood
Eli Wood was previously a Software Engineer at Bloomerang.