“My System is like the Roach Motel of Data”

I had a prospect tell me this once. He explained that in his Advancement System “the data goes in and never comes out again.” (Apologies to Black Flag, but that’s how my soon-to-be-client described his system.)

I’ve told this story at many conferences, presentations, and classes. Inevitably several folks will ask me, “was he using the same system that I do – the XYZ System?” It seems to be a common problem.

The system and its incomplete, inaccurate, and untimely outputs was a source of frustration to Development staff and management, a source of annoyance to alumni and prospects, and a source of embarrassment to IT, Deans and other college staff.

Although my client really blamed the vendor for the problems (and there was some culpability there), we explored other issues:

  • Did Advancement Services have the right level of staffing support?
  • Were they organized effectively?
  • Was training adequate? Was it provided on a regular & timely basis?
  • Were there documented policies and procedures? Were they followed?
  • Was there attention to putting data into the system accurately? Many duplicate records? Were there periodic quality control checks?
  • Did donors get accurate receipts and acknowledgements within 48-72 hours of the institution receiving their gifts/payments? What was the quality of other stewardship?
  • Was there effective communication between and among Advancement personnel and with IT, Finance, and other institution personnel?

So we explored all of these questions (and many others) and then we asked about the functionality of the software itself. Was it:

  • Tracking donors and prospects to the level you want?
  • Capturing and presenting relationships among constituents? Reporting giving clearly on complex related parties?
  • Tracking and reporting clearly on the wide variety of giving instruments, e.g., cash, checks, credit cards, securities, property, planned gifts and bequests, gifts-in-kind, matching gifts,  etc.
  • Supporting an on-line community?  Handling giving, membership, and event registration on-line quickly and easily?
  • Support your division’s road warriors on their laptops and/or cell phones? Easy display and entry?
  • Supporting self-service for both constituents and staff?
  • Helping to organize and report on the effectiveness of solicitations and appeals?
  • Tracking and reporting on alumni/donor/prospect involvement – response to appeals, participation in events, click-throughs in e-mails, giving levels, committee involvement, reunion participation, etc.
  • Helping track major gift officers contacts, pipelines and moves?
  • Support recognition for donor giving with custom acknowledgments, gift societies, stewardship reporting and the like?
  • Providing accurate and straight-forward campaign reporting including management of solicitors?
  • Helping to manage events and volunteers?
  • Simply and accurately feeding your organizations financial system?

So was the problem with my client software/vendor problems or internal policies, procedures and personnel problems? Yes, to all of the above.

As consultant to them I assisted with both diagnostics and prescriptions for new medicine. So, was I successful in “solving all their problems?” No, but at least we prioritized and quantified what could be done right away, later and/or probably never. They did what they could/wanted to and they stopped referring to their system as the “Roach Motel of Data.”

I’d welcome any comments/questions via e-mail at CharliesBlog@riarlington.com  And please sign up for my periodic blog posts in the space in the column on the right!

 SDG, Charlie Hunsaker
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