In the nonprofit world, we hear a lot about increasing the engagement of members, donors, and even volunteers. While this goal is certainly important, in this article I discuss “Old School” and “New School” database software scenarios and the impact it plays on “engagement” by all stakeholders of your organization including your power users; the staff.
Engagement and Your Database
Old School Database
First, let’s discuss the idea of an “Old School Storage” database and how it has an impact in engagement by your staff. Here are several signs that usually indicate your using an old school database.
No Fun: An old school storage system of yesteryear isn’t usually fun to use. For all practical purposes, it does more than an adequate job of tracking membership, donors and dollars but it’s usually clunky to use and adds little value to a staff’s day-to-day tasks.
Limited segmentation: If massaged enough times in just the right way, most old school databases can search for data. But in most cases an old school database limits your employees to have to choose from a pre-programmed selection of search criteria. Further, produces reports which may or may not satisfy your organization’s needs. Even if employees are able to customize reports, they need a greater understanding of what parameters have to go into a query in order for the data to come out in a usable format. As a result, your employees see the system as somewhere to store data and not much else.
Poor Communication: An old school database has communication features which are usually clunky so employees routinely use workarounds to send simple thank you letters to donors or make fundraising appeals. The integration with email systems or emailing newsletters is a chore.
No Open Application Programming Interface (API): In addition, the system does not always play well with the other software used every day in your computer network so it usually causes disparate systems which do not talk to one another.
Requires IT support: Without an in-house IT department to help, in the past it usually made more sense to install the software on a stand-alone computer in the office to avoid freezes, glitches and hang-ups. Further, old school database software is not cloud-based so if your employees want to profit from any of the data or reports outside the office, they must use the one stand-alone computer in the office to access the system only. Frustrating, right?!
Not Mobile Friendly: For the most part, your employees probably have smartphones that can do pretty much what any computer can do and they check their Facebook “news feed” several times a day. They program their smartphones to receive office emails and stay connected to the outside world from one text message to the next. millennial demand easy user interface in workplace software systems because they have grown up using this concept on smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FaceTime, and video games.
New School Database Software
In my opinion, the ease of use and having your employees love your system will help tremendously in obtaining value in your database. In other words, engaged employees using the database will translate in your investment ultimately benefiting all parties; members, donors, volunteers, & staff equally. Let’s discuss a few of the trends which help promote engagement in staff.
Cloud Based: The popularity in cloud-based system is for very good reason. Cloud-based software allows for mobility and a much better user experience which mirrors many of the common software tools already used today.
More than storage: New databases can do more than just keep track of membership rolls and the donations collected. Today, everyone is online. Therefore, there is a tremendous amount of value for your staff to be able to “pull” in social activity, volunteer activity, & other pertinent data to help their development efforts and membership activities. The more information your staff has on their constituents without having to “fish” for it, the more engaged they will be in using your database. My favorite is “WebSite Visitor” tracking found in marketing automation technologies.
Communication: Today, databases have much more ability to produce professional digital newsletters and other communication materials, too. Sending out a text, mailing a letter, sending out an email, posting a tweet, or publishing a blog article can all be done in one system now. If your employees are using a disparate communication tool, they are likely spending more time on their jobs than necessary. And, less interested in using the main database which results in poor business management and disgruntled employees.
Collaboration: New databases today promote collaboration for the staff. They keep track of activities, projects, and support group participation internally. And, even externally with constituents.
More Fun: Most employees want to be armed with the best tools. Today, there are some real fun features that work each time, every time. Today, you don’t have to be a programmer. And, learning a new system is easy because it is intuitive.
A right sized (the best) database is the one which the employees see as a blessing and not a curse. The difference between the “Old School Database” systems and a “New Age Engagement” database is that your employees want to use it and derive measurable value from utilizing it.
And, this is not applicable in just staff. I just visited with an Executive Director the other day who stated:
“I never used the old membership database before, now, wow! I am always in it which helps every aspect of my day-to-day management and revenue generating visibility.
Having an outdated database definitely can hinder engagement by your constituents but equally can be detrimental to morale and overall productivity by your staff. The benefits of engagement are not one-sided.
So, perhaps it’s time to dust off that old Rolodex and seek a new engagement focused database designed for all staff holders (staff, members, donors, volunteers, & board). If you want to discuss this or any other matter, please contact us.
Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.