Clean Up That Database

Vered Siegel from After School Matters is presenting "Easy Wins: High Impact, Low-Effort Ways to Improve Your Database." When we inherit a new database, we think, "Why on earth did someone do things this way?" Someone put things in your database for a reason: they had good intentions, they understood a part but not the whole, they thought "it might be useful some day," or "someone told me to."

Start by shutting down all permissions. Then make a plan. Figure out who controls the delete function. Your database might be like Wikipedia -- anything written there becomes "true." Vered says that when you shut down permissions, "being an a--hole is inevitable." Examine everyone's job roles and set permissions accordingly. Control access to deleting very carefully. Change the theory of power and permissions. Just because you are the VP doesn't mean that you should have access to all database functions. Fewer permissions = better.

Vered likes to run what she calls a "query for null." Look for any records missing mandatory pieces of information: address, city, state, zip, gender, marital status, etc. Once you identify the missing spots, set some metrics for improvement, like targets for address completion or phone number completion. Do some data appends to fill your gaps. She also does a "query for discord," e.g. Marital status is blank, but there is a spouse listed; a record has a male title and gender is equal to "female."

Align your fund tracking with your general ledger. Make it a goal to reconcile fundraising and accounting to the penny.

If possible, lock fields so that selections are limited. For example, make it impossible to choose a code that is tied to a prior fiscal year.

Figure out who your allies are. Create "power users" and encourage them to talk amongst themselves. Empower your data entry staff -- it's the most important investment you can make. They know your database from the ground up, and will be future managers. Encourage questions.