5 Steps to Avoiding Embarrassment with SOPs


I recently received an email from one of my new mailing list subscribers, letting me know that my welcome email referred to “new things to come in 2018”.  Yikes!  Embarrassing. (Just like the cobbler’s children wear no shoes, sometimes the data management consultant’s data is not managed.)

I decided to make a positive example out of this oops by writing about standard operating procedures, or SOPs. Though not glamorous, SOPs are critical for awesome data management.

Why are SOPs so important? Documenting how you accomplish your business processes makes it easier to do the same thing the same way every time. This reduces errors and inconsistencies and saves time.

SOPs are helpful references for existing employees, particularly when they have tasks that are infrequent and complex. And they are invaluable for training new employees. The other advantage of evaluating and documenting your processes is that it often reveals gaps, inefficiencies or other problems, which presents opportunity for improvement.


What might be included in your repertoire of SOPs:

·         Data standards (the desired outcome we want every time, e.g. address format, name format)

·         Documentation (step by step description of how to accomplish a task)

·         Process maps (visual documentation of processes and systems)

·         Data dictionaries (list of database fields with descriptions of how they are used)

·         Calendars (track regularly occurring tasks -- a content update calendar would have reminded me to review and refresh my welcome message)

·         Checklists (short lists to help staff accomplish tasks, should be backed up by detailed documentation)

·         Inventories (lists of data assets like standard reports, acknowledgment letter templates, website content)


How do you get started?

  1. Inventory your business processes. What are the repeated tasks that you must do to keep your operation going? This includes all: data entry processes; generating acknowledgements, mailings and reports from your database; sending email; prospect management procedures; annual fund segmentation procedures; pretty much everything you do.

  2. Prioritize based on frequency and complexity. What do you do the most often? What are the most complicated things you do? What are the things you do that you are pretty sure nobody would be able to figure out if you stopped coming to work? Which processes are vital to donor relations? Start with those.

  3. Make regular time to work on your SOPs. Let’s face it, creating your standard operating procedures is rarely the first thing you want to do when you come to work each day. So set aside 30 minutes each week to work on your SOPs. This is a marathon task, so make time for it.

  4. Have another person review your documents. There’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes to help you clarify your words and design.

  5. Review your SOPs annually and update them. Times change, and the way you do things changes. Schedule time to keep your SOPs current.

We’ll be talking about the best way to manage donor data throughout the Make Your Donor Data Work webinar series. If your SOPs don’t feel so standard, operational or procedural, then please join us. You’ll walk away ready to get your processes in line.

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Amanda JarmanComment