An Excel spreadsheet is not a database

For some time, I’ve been giving Charities guidance on procuring new CRM database systems, mainly in the fundraising area. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you have an idea of what a database is but just to be clear. Databases are a central repository for structured data. Normally they would have some type of validation (checking) on the data that you put into it. This is one of the main reasons why Excel spreadsheets are not databases! Excel can be used to collect data or maintain lists of data but very rarely do you see Excel spreadsheets that make sure that the right type of data is in the right cell or have special forms that let you enter data in a structured way.

So why do you need a database, you could just use a spreadsheet. For everything that is in this post there are of course exceptions or ways around what I’m suggesting.

Here are my 5 main reasons why I think every charity should have a database:

1.Collaboration

When I mention collaboration it can scare lots of people about who has access to “their” data. First thing that I suggest is that the data is the asset of the organisation, not your personal data, that’s something completely different and you having your own set of data means that a supporter is probably not getting the best from your organisation. Always put yourself in the position of the supporter/beneficiary – they have a relationship with the organisation and probably with you as an employee, but you should only ever use one voice when you speak to them. This is only possible when all data is in one place. The organisation has one version of the truth, this can never be a bad thing. Yes there will be some data that the supporter may not want you to share across the organisation, but sharing is caring. A database lets multiple users access it at once, something that is much harder in Excel and almost impossible beyond 2 users. 

2.Legislation

From a legislative process, having your data in one centralised accessible place is a good thing. First of all if your supporters are multi-faceted, you’ll know. Otherwise you’ll have to look through paper files / Excel spreadsheets or other places that you have data as both paper and electronic data are governed by the Data Protection Act. The other thing to think about here is that legislation is not just about the Data Protection Act, there’s also your requirements around PCI-DSS Compliancy, Gift Aid and privacy and electronic communications (PECR).

3. Consistency

Now here’s some stuff that you can do in an Excel spreadsheet but can be easier when you’re using a database. Think of things like titles in an Excel spreadsheet. Some people would put Mr or Mr. or leave it blank or put something else. Database consistency should help with things like drop down lists and options. Like I said this can be done with data validation in Excel but this won’t do formatting validation as easily. Some examples:

  • what do postcodes look like?
  • historically Towns were required to be in Uppercase by Royal Mail (now it isn’t required to be upper case)
  • Telephone numbers, if you’re using a system that recognises telephone numbers does it needs to have its international dialling codes how does it cope with spaces.

These things are things that should be picked up by a decent CRM system. In a perfect world there would be an internal description field set up for things like drop down lists so you know what type of data values you’re expecting in here for example Marathon Runners and their estimated completion times what would this look like in your database 3h 45, 03:45 hours, 225minutes

Obviously thought needs to go into how to structure your profiles/attributes when you set up your CRM system.

4. Efficiency

Why do users like Excel spreadsheets – because they are easy, we’re all comfortable with them. Most people can copy and paste from or to them. We know how to find and filter the data and get what we want from it. An Excel spreadsheet works with Microsoft Word so sending letters or printing labels is easy.

All of this ease has to migrate to CRM systems. Data collection shouldn’t be tedious, forms should be simple and easily understood, ideally self-populating where possible e.g. My gender is most likely male as my title is completed as Mr, this doesn’t mean it can’t be changed but it should be capable of working out the default which could be overwritten if needed. The same when processing income, I know that the last thing that you received was this appeal therefore when I process income, I should be able to guess that you’re responding to this. I shouldn’t have to retype all of the information again if it’s already in the system.

The one thing that is my biggest bug bear is users who are re-keying electronic data because import processes are too laborious or complicated. Importing data of any kind shouldn’t be difficult it should be as simple as a copy and paste into a template that does all the heavy lifting for you.

5. Measurement

Finally, there’s no point capturing data if you can’t report on it and count your successes. Yes of course you can do reporting in Excel but you’d have to create your own reports. Most of the CRM systems come with a number of reports as standard like income reports, new donors’ reports. Some of the new CRM systems are doing more intelligent reporting with things like letting you know that you’ve not been in touch with key supporters, reminders around when to get in touch with a supporter for their birthday, the anniversary of their gift, their potential change in taxpayer status. All of which help you craft your message at the right time to the right people.

So these are my 5 top reasons about why choose a database over a spreadsheet. What are your reasons for using a database?

Lastly, please don’t think that a database is out of your reach, there are solutions to fit all budgets, teams, processes. The key with all of it is keep it simple to get started and build on that once you’re up and running.

Actually Data can help you with embarking on a project like this, if you’d like to talk through how we can help, let’s grab a coffee.

The art of CRM project management

Project management is one of those terms that is banded around the sector as just part of everyone’s role. Whether you’re an events fundraiser, a major donor fundraiser or a database manager and its true there is project management that helps all of the people in those roles succeed, but most times its silo’d. There’s no cross team working unless its writing a piece for comms or digital to help promote the cause or event.

I find a lot of charities think that the project management of a new CRM system is something that can be “tacked on” to someone’s day job not realising the amount of effort required and communication skills needed at all levels within the organisation as well as talking to vendors and potentially other contractors to do the things that you need.

I do a lot of project management as part of my implementation roles and always find it interesting the perception of what “good” looks like. I always say when starting projects that you will start off liking me, you’ll get to UAT and be a little bit overwhelmed and then once you see how a  will change your work be on the happy curve again.

But essentially, CRM project management is about a journey. Most people who are implementing a new CRM system are either doing it and not wanting to change or excited about the change and the new possibilities. Wrapped up into this is the change management piece and collaborative working across all teams who will use the new system. In my view this should be everyone who is a touch point with a supporter, from CEO to the receptionist as its really important. All good organisations charity or not base their work/products/service on data as well as other things but data is at the heart or should be.

So back to the difference between day to day project management and CRM implementation project management, a CRM implementation has a lot of moving parts and should have lots of collaboration within the organisation as you define best practice and a common understanding. There’s a lot of potential data sets that will be unearthed that should be in the CRM but never made it for whatever reason and then there’s the cultural change for the organisation.

Like I’ve said previously, the best CRM system in the world is only as good as the people who use it and the data that they put into it. But now more than ever it’s important to ensure that your organisation has one version of the truth.

So with these three things the key is to:

  • Know what go live looks like (I personally recommend going live in phases so if you need web/events/volunteering/ as part of go live, when is that going to happen, you probably want to try and stagger how people need to take on that knowledge of the new product
  • Understand that people have day jobs, if a project can be delivered in 4 months that’s great but real life will I guarantee get in the way, most of my projects at best go live after 6 months but more realistically end up somewhere closer to 9 months – again the key here is making sure you know what number 1 looks like.
  • Communication and collaboration – put time in people’s diaries for show and tell or key business changes, its key in getting buy in and making sure that your users (or even better super users) are on board with how it will work
  • Book out time for familiarisation sessions let people play with the product and give them the support that they need. A good project manager is 70% counsellor and 30% doing or managing the doing
  • As project manager you don’t have to know how to do everyone’s job, make sure you have key people (Super users / Champions / Heroes / Knowledge Managers / Wizards) whatever you want to call them, they are the people who know their job
  • Make sure you share the knowledge, its key in keeping everyone on track, a folder on a server, a group in outlook, a simple project management tool, make sure it forms part of your meetings. It’s key to share this knowledge with the leadership team as well as your Super users and champions

It’s a journey, in my view it’s a fun journey as you come out as a better organisation after you’ve done it, but it is hard work and on top of day jobs can be very frustrating.

I hope that this has helped and if it is a bit overwhelming for you or your team drop us a note and we’ll talk it through with you.

Permissions, regulations and your CRM system

You can’t have helped but notice that there is a lot of noise in the sector and the wider press at the moment about permission based marketing.  There are lots of people making comments about whether new regulations, Codes of Practice and European Data laws are a good or bad thing and what they means for income, jobs and from my point of view, the most important people, our beneficiaries.

For example my wife mentioned to me in a comment recently, after attending a conference that a question was raised about “If Olive Cooke was alive today, would she have signed up for the Fundraising Preference Service” it does make you think….

So I thought that on a practical level the best thing that I could do would be to write a post about what all of this noise might mean in terms of CRM systems.
Continue reading Permissions, regulations and your CRM system

Why CRM systems fail!!

Following on from my previous post about how to healthcheck a CRM system, I wanted to share with you why I think people either love or hate their CRM systems. In most cases its not because one system is better than the other, though there are some systems that don’t fit the not for profit market, it is because users have either bought into the system and can see the benefits or they can’t.

I tell this story a lot but it is one of my most vivid memories of when I started working in the sector. I remember a member of staff, who in the run up to the London Marathon was struggling under the burden of paper that was printed out and then manually entered into the CRM system. It was taking about 3 out of the 5 days in the week to process this data. Now, this wasn’t because the CRM system was rubbish or even that the person didn’t know better, but more because the person who was spending their day wrapped up in paper wasn’t aware of the different things that their CRM system could do.

It was a lack of training. Continue reading Why CRM systems fail!!

How to review your CRM System

Now you are back in the swing of things, the January blues have faded and you are looking forward to your new goals for 2015, it is the perfect time to think about checking that your CRM system is in good shape to help you achieve your targets.

CRM systems need love, care and attention, if you are going to get the best from them and keep them accurate. This is essential to make it easy for all your staff to use, update and understand the data.

databasecartoonWhen I visit charities as part of my consultancy work I often find that their CRM systems are organic beasts.  With changes in staff or business processes or sometimes both, over time, what used to be a lean and relevant system with clear procedures has become increasingly a long winded process that doesn’t easily meet the needs of the organisation’s current objectives.

Continue reading How to review your CRM System