Getting the most from your database

As a firm, we are big fans of the Salesforce database solution.  It's flexible, powerful, and perhaps best of all, free to nonprofits.  More and more organizations are adopting it to manage their donor information. 

But like the Ginsu knife TV commericals of yore, that's not all!  A database that is flexible - Salesforce isn't the only one, but is the one we work with - should be able to handle a wide variety of mission critical needs. 

Developing greater data capacity is indeed critical.  Funders increasingly want to validate your work more rigorously; funding scarcity means you have to wring out cost efficiencies.  You can't satisfy those demans without the right information at your fingertips.

To better answer the question about what a database like Salesforce can do on these wider fronts, I turned to Jason Rieckewald-Schmidt , my firm Consulting Within Reach's database expert (pictured below). 

Here's what he had to share.

If you’ve migrated to Salesforce or Common Ground to oversee you fundraising, you can harness that same powerful database to keep track of any person or process that comes through your organization. Like I mentioned in my last blog post, having separate, un-integrated constituent systems can wreak havoc on your organization. Salesforce is a great application to store your organization’s constituent information, not just donor information. From volunteers to program participants, all those people need to have their name, address and constituency information stored somewhere…which is usually an Excel spreadsheet.
Here is a nightmare scenario for most nonprofits: sending a year-end appeal to donors who gave over $500 the previous year, volunteered over 25 hours this current year and who came to the most recent Gala event. If you’re like most organizations, you’re exporting all your donors, asking your volunteer coordinator for a list of people and then cross-checking those names against your Gala attendees. My best-case scenario is that this would take 2 hours for the most skilled development staff who knows Excel and is good with Access. With an integrated Salesforce database, pulling this list would take only 2 minutes.
Here are four areas to think about adding to your Salesforce database solution:
  1. Manage volunteers
  2. Track program participants
  3. Run a Gala event
  4. Syncing to an external database
1. Managing Volunteers
To run a successful volunteer program, you need to keep track of more than just names and contact information. It is also not enough to have them just tagged as a “Volunteer” in your database. Volunteers, like donors, need to be cultivated, thanked and managed on a regular basis.
One of our clients in San Jose runs after school tutoring program that couldn’t function without dozens of volunteers. Students from local colleges fill out a three-page volunteer application which specifies their availiabilty, interested, any other requirements (background check, TB test, etc.). Once this data is entered into Salesforce, it is run against a series of check and rules. For example, if a volunteer is way behind on their hours the volunteer coordinator gets a reminder to email the volunteer. Or if a volunteer signed up to work with kids and hasn’t had a background check, it won’t allow the user to assign that particular job to that volunteer. Instead of the volunteer coordinator trying to enforce their volunteer requirements, Salesforce automatically enforces all those requirement any time the data is entered or updated.
And while this client could have purchased a separate volunteer management system, they chose to utilize their already existing Salesforce database to manage their volunteer program. Imagine how excited the staff will be when the organization implements Salesforce’s Web-To-Lead feature. This will allow potential volunteers to enter all their volunteer application information on a form on the organization’s website and then have it directly imported into Salesforce. Instead of the user entering three pages of volunteer information, they will can the volunteer’s data and either accept or reject their volunteer application.
2. Track Program Participants
Along with donors and volunteers, program participants have import and critical data for nonprofits. From case management to clients served, trying to keep track of program people can pose a challenge to even the most dedicated staff.
One of Salesforce’s best features is its security. Originally set up for sales staff to keep their leads and sales accounts private, an organization can have a volunteer staff, development staff and program staff can use the same database but not have access to each other’s information.
One client runs a scholarship program for children and teens. All of the students’ grades, test scores and program information, as well as siblings parent information, are all stored in Salesforce. The scholarship coordinator has no access to the donors in the database, only her scholarship information. Just like the development staff can run reports on donation information, the program staff now can run reports on how many kids are actively in the program to average grade point average for seventh graders who attend schools in San Jose. 
3. Run A Gala Event
Almost every nonprofit has some type of large Gala event. To most organizations, this is the crisis every fall. Attendee lists with event information are never stored in donation record, unless it is in some note field. There are usually separate lists for caterors, the staff setting up the table arrangements and no one jumps at the chance to reconciling the auction donations. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
One Common Ground client decided to use the Event Management module to run their fall Gala. They set up the event information (e.g. sponsorship levels, tax-deductable amounts, meal preference). When the people sent in their reservations, their name, amount, meal preference and seating arrangement were all captured, along with their donation. The acknowledgment letter they sent to the attendee mentioned the upcoming Gala and thanked them for the number of tickets they purchased for the event. When the Gala arrived, the development staff ran a report of all the attendees and their important information (auction id, meal preference, table assignment). After the event, it took them less than 48 hours to process and receipt all attendees who purchased items at their Gala. That would be an impossible turn around for most organizations.
4. Sync to an external database
Let’s see if this sounds familiar: “we have a donor database and a program database. If any contact information gets updated in either the donor database or our program database, there is no way for them to sync.”
For one client in San Francisco, graduates of their programs are a great source or potential donors. The problem is that there is now way for their program database to interact with their donor database. However, with an application like DB Sync, the organization would be able to sync and update between the two databases to make sure if you update any information in one database. If you have important constituent stored in two, unrelated databases, you’re either spending a lot of time trying guessing which information is most current or your doing a lot of double data entry.
Salesforce is a powerful database to oversee your fundraising. But if fundraising is all you’re using it for, your organization might be missing out.

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