General Insights

Maths for Database People

While many database professionals are proficient in math, I’ve met a few who break out in a cold sweat when I ask them about it.

As with most things I teach, I always try to start simple. You’re a database administrator, not a financial modeller. It’s the same with statistics; once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you can ignore the rest until you really need it.

So, to make things a little less scary, and especially if you’re doing a lot of work with reports, here are a couple of things that might help:

FunctionIn ExcelIn Power Bi (DAX)Notes
Sum (Adding Up)Cell + Cell or =Sum()Sum()This will combine values.

If you do this with cells, all of the mathematical operators (+,-,/,*) will work.
Mean Average=Average()Average()This will yield the mean average. (Total all the numbers and divide by the number count)
Mode Average=Mode()It’s complicatedIn Power Bi, you must calculate the frequency of the numbers that appear to take the one at the top. The Mode Average is the average based on how many times a value appears in a list.
Median Average=Median()=Median()The median average is the number in the middle of the range; it is similar to the mean but differs slightly.

=(small number / big number)*100
=DIVIDE( small number, big number, 0)

*The zero just removes the possible errors.
If you wanted to know what a percentage of a number is, for example, the GiftAid amount on a donation, you could multiply the donation amount by 25%. If you wanted to know how much Individual Giving income there was in comparison to the rest of the organisation, you would need to total (sum) the income for Individual Giving, sum the income for the organisation, and then divide the individual giving income by the total income and multiply the result by 100.

Essentially the way I remember it is small number divided by big number multiplied by 100.

There are many resources on the internet that can assist you with these functions and provide a more detailed breakdown, but hopefully this means that some of you who used to break out in a cold sweat now have a little more assistance.

As with previous posts, these are not exhaustive. As with the post on Excel Functions, I’m not here to rewrite the Microsoft help files; rather, I’m here to point you in the right direction.


Excel Functions for Database people

The ability to use Excel is a critical tool in a database professional’s toolbox. There are a few key formulas that you should be familiar with. Here are a few of my personal favourites.

But, before we get there, I thought I’d mention some of the other things Excel is good at and bad at.

I’ve used Microsoft Excel (full name) for a variety of purposes. I’ve used it to transform data and to create desktop apps with the help of Macros and Forms. I’ve used it for reporting as well as, dare I say, data capture. Please see my other post about Excel not being a database!

It can be a very flexible and powerful tool, and it is also an application that most businesses have, making it simple to roll out solutions to customers. Another great feature of Excel is that it includes Microsoft’s new(ish) power query tools. If you’re unfamiliar with Power Query, check out my post about how APIs have become much easier to use!

Right, I’m getting carried away, let’s get back to formulae or, as they’re sometimes called, Functions. Here is the official Microsoft function help: 5f91f4e9-7b42-46d2-9bd1-63f26a86c0eb – – Never be afraid to seek assistance (F1 is the shortcut key for help in all Microsoft Applications). If you get stuck, remember that Google is your friend.

So, to get you started, here are some formulas that I use frequently when working in Excel; these are the slightly more obscure ones rather than the standard SUM, AVERAGE, COUNT, and so on.

  1. =IF – This allows you to generate a Boolean logic value based on a set of criteria. =If (CELL>=50,”Top”,”Bottom”), for example, would identify if the value in a specific cell was greater than 50, in which case it would say top, otherwise it would say bottom.
  2. =LEN – This function returns the CELL’s length. When importing data into fields with a maximum length, such as telephone numbers, this feature comes in handy.
  3. =Substitute – This function allows you to replace values within a string, for example: =Substitute(“Anthony”,”hony”,”onia”) would change Anthony’s name to Antonia.
  4. =CountA – Counts the number of non-blank cells. This is something I’ve used a lot when creating custom reports for customers.
  5. CountIFs and SumIfs – I’ve combined these two because they are used in Reporting, where I need Count or Sum functionality based on a Logical Statement, for example: Count this row if the Town is London. Sum if does the same thing but adds a value, for example: What is the total income from London residents?
  6. NETWORKDAYS – This is a sometimes useful function that returns the number of working days between two dates, such as how long it takes to send a thank you letter after receiving a gift. I’d use networkdays based on the gift and acknowledgement dates. This could also be used for supporter journeys. How long does it take to turn a prospect into a participant?
  7. LEFT / RIGHT – This returns a number of characters from the left or right side of a string, for example: =Left(“Anthony”,3) returns “Ant” because these are the first three characters.
  8. ISDate – This checks to see if a value is a real date, which is useful when you have data that will not import into a system.
  9. ISBLANK, ISERROR, and ISNA are all used for error checking. All of these are extremely useful when working with reporting and data that may not meet your report’s criteria.
  10. Finally, all good database professionals will be well-versed in Vlookup. This is the ability to take data from another source and match it to your row using a common field. For example, if you want to add a postcode to your contact sheet but the address is in a different table, Vlookup is the way to go. It has some quirks that you’ll need to get used to, but once you do, you’ll be hooked. It reminds me of pivot tables, but that’s a story for another day….

Finally, some new developments with Excel functions, which, if you’re still reading, must mean you’re interested.

  1. XLookup – A new variation on the Vlookup function that allows you to go forwards and backwards in time. It has a search mode, which is very useful.
  2. Excel 2021 is a new version of Excel that was released in October 2021.
  3. Finally, many people who are far more nerdy than I am seem to be getting excited about Excel and Lambdas: This appears to me to be a solution looking for a problem at the moment, but I’m confident that once I understand it or have used it, I’ll be raving about it.

So, what have I overlooked? Excel has so many functions that I’m sure you have favourites as well. As previously stated, this list is by no means exhaustive of all the functions available in Excel; rather, it focuses on the ones that I use the most frequently. Please leave a comment if you believe I have missed any.


If everything is important then nothing is

Patrick Lencioni’s quote is excellent. I see a lot of database managers, no, a lot of people in the industry struggle with this.

But I believe it is true. There is a lot of discussion about multitasking or task switching and how women are better at it than men. However, I believe that making a list of everything you’re doing and then attempting to figure out how to make that list more manageable will only help you get things done.

The difficulty in managing multiple tasks is usually due to the number of moving parts and interdependencies. As previously stated, I would make a list of the projects, going old school if necessary and writing it down on a piece of paper with a pen! Then you can figure out when things need to happen.

The key to all of this is managing expectations; whether you’re a consultant or an employee, you just have to be honest and tell people what you’re thinking. To be fair, I write this from a position of frequently getting myself into hot water over this. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I try to do too much, and I recently found myself in front of a client and friend, anxious and concerned about their project due to time constraints, the work that is required, and letting them down.

As obvious as it is, burning the candle at both ends cannot be sustained indefinitely. I’ve seen people working a frightening number of hours during lockdown just to keep things running while all the extra work, not business as usual, was being added. If this continues for an extended period of time, two things are likely to occur: people will become disinterested in their jobs, or they will be forced to take time off.

My suggestion would be as follows:

  1. Return to pen and paper and make a list of everything that needs to happen.
  2. Communicate this effectively to the team working on it as well as the larger stakeholder who is requesting more work. Sometimes stakeholders will come to an agreement and re-prioritize.
  3. Make a list of at least three things you’ll accomplish that day. Also, make sure that no single day has more than three tasks to complete. I don’t mean trivial tasks like making tea or doing the dishes; I mean tasks that require your full attention.

If your list cannot be broken down into three things that you can accomplish in a day, then your list-making process needs to be reviewed. Here’s an example of how to break down the list.

Problem: My database needs to be cleaned; this will take months, and I’m not sure where to begin.

This could be divided into the following areas of my database that have the greatest impact on users:

  1. Contact Types / Constituent Codes – Who are my stakeholders
  2. Action Types / Communication Types – What do I talk to them about
  3. Attributes / Profiles – Do some of these options need turning off

With those three things in place, many of your users will notice an improvement fairly quickly.

It’s the same with website or integration projects: break them down into something manageable or achievable so that something gets done, and if it can’t be done on time, explain it as soon as you know you won’t meet a deadline so stakeholders can make alternative plans.

Finally, why three? There’s a great piece here about how we are taught and given three options at a young age, read more about the power of three –

If you have a different approach to dealing with the day-to-day challenges of managing a team and multiple people wanting multiple things at the same time, I’d like to hear about it.

Fundraising Databases

Engaging Networks Integration

Tired of manually transferring data from your Engaging Networks platform to your fundraising CRM system? Working with Actually Data as your Engaging Networks partner can help to streamline this process, saving you time and effort while allowing you to focus on what’s most important – your fundraising efforts.

Our experienced data professionals have extensive experience with Engaging Networks integration and can collaborate with you to develop a customised solution that uses Power Query as the ETL tool. With our assistance, you will be able to transfer data between your Engaging Networks platform and your CRM system easily and seamlessly, ensuring that your data is always up to date and accurate.

However, the advantages of working with Actually Data do not end there. Actually Data Analytics, our sister company, can assist you in visualising your Engaging Networks data using Power BI. You’ll be able to quickly and easily understand your data and make informed decisions about your fundraising efforts with interactive dashboards and reports.

We can provide training and support in addition to data integration and visualisation to help you get the most out of your Engaging Networks platform. We’re here to help with campaign setup, reporting, and any other aspect of your Engaging Networks usage.

Don’t waste time manually transferring data between systems; instead, work with Actually Data as your Engaging Networks partner to regain control of your data today. Please contact us to learn more about how we can assist you.


Welcome to ADRFM

I’ve really enjoyed working in the sector over the years; there are great people and causes, but one thing that I’ve always struggled with is a lack of data understanding.

While typing this, I recall a train conversation I had with the head of Individual Giving and another fundraiser early in my role at VSO where I was waxing lyrical about data and its usage and how animated I got and was told to calm down and you’ll go far, but I also remember thinking to myself that I need to bridge the gap between the database and the fundraising team. As Database Manager, I assumed this was my responsibility.

15 years later, I’m still trying to bring fundraisers closer to their data. Over the years, I’ve learned that fundraisers prefer colours to a wall of numbers – I’ve tried both – they prefer simplicity to having to write queries and are mostly comfortable in excel. Some of the new fundraisers, on the other hand, and the ones I believe will excel (see what I did there?) in the coming years, are those who are curious about their supporters and want to get closer to their data.


ADRFM is a report suite that covers the key reports and metrics that fundraisers have requested from me over the years. ADRFM (Actually Data’s Really Fantastic Metrics) was born.

Delivering training sessions is something I’ve always enjoyed. When a user understands what you’re trying to show them, such as queries in Raiser’s Edge. There’s no better feeling than making someone self-sufficient. I’ve worked with organisations that requested reports from CRM systems, as well as organisations that had no reporting in place or had no idea how well they were performing other than what was in the management accounts.

The level of detail in your CRM system should allow you to answer questions like: Who are my best supporters, where do they live, what products do they buy, when do they buy them, and what will they buy next. None of it of these will come from your management accounts.

Working with a number of organisations where monthly reports were required, as well as doing mailing selections for clients. I’ve spent a lot of time considering what these organisations, large and small, have in common. Simple things like RFV (Recency, Frequency, Value) to single givers and multi givers seemed to be at the forefront of a fundraiser’s mind.

Then there were the average gift amounts and the number of communications received by a supporter. We have over 20 metrics that we can calculate on your data that you can use to select supporters or review what they’ve done, some of which may be things you’d like to test in the future in a mailing or supporter journey.

I hope that having a suite of reports that cover all aspects of fundraising and are easy to use and explore your data brings fundraisers closer to their supporters and helps them understand what they do and when they do it. It’s colourful, so it should be more engaging than a crystal report, and it provides a starting point for organisations that haven’t reviewed their reporting requirements. One of the clients used it in this manner; they needed reporting but weren’t sure what they wanted, so they started with ADRFM and discovered that it meets the majority of their needs.

ADRFM is a subscription-based, system-independent product. So it doesn’t matter if you’re using thankQ, Raiser’s Edge, D365, Salesforce, or any of the other CRM systems on the market; our system will work with it. Customers use data from multiple systems together rather than going through a full data warehouse solution.

As with most projects I’ve worked on, I believe that reporting is a journey. If you’re just getting started, we have a reporting suite that will get you and your organisation started. This is ADRFM in a nutshell; it includes reporting and KPIs.

If you are a larger organisation that is already embracing data and looking to take the next step with your reporting, we have the Pro version, which includes reporting, KPI’s, metrics, and our very own segmentation tool. This enables fundraisers (or anyone else?) to create their own segments for analysis.

We’ve also created bespoke reports based on our data model and data from Google Analytics and Email Marketing Platforms like Dot Digital.

So, if you want to learn more about ADRFM or discuss your specific reporting needs and how it might help your organisation, get in touch and we can have a virtual coffee and talk about it in more detail, though you may need to tell me to “calm down” ;). Please Contact Us