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  • Sharron Batsch

Strong Systems Trump Leadership

As a donor do I want to hear my charity of choice proclaim

“We need to clean up our data!”?

Is there something functionally misunderstood in the not-for-profit community where data, their most valued asset, is given short shrift to other needs?

Is it possible that a more organized and functional method for managing all the information a charity uses to operate successfully, would support all these needs?

Our many years working in the charitable sector have shown us time and again, the negative results of poor information management, lack of training, and little staff accountability.

It is interesting to hear that good leadership is the solution when in fact good business practices which outlive staff change, not only support leadership but are a salve when poor leaders are in place. It’s not our intent to focus on leadership. Good intentions, come in many forms, some are just more effective than others.

It has been our contention for a long while that the charity itself needs to have some requirements built into how it functions so that it can hire the right people and retain the right methods to support its sustainability.

There are many avenues of information or knowledge that support a workgroup. Consider a bank. Does every new accounting clerk change the software to something they are familiar with only to quit in 18 or so months? No. Do tellers change processes that protect the bank from making errors when handling customer deposits and withdrawals? No. Would any change be acceptable where a more effective solution has been in-house?

Training is a big area of concern. “Let’s not train our staff and see if they can figure things out.” It’s cheaper than investing to support a knowledgeable work team. Going back to our bank analogy, do they train their staff? Yes. Because someone worked at a different banking organization is that enough to assume they can absorb the differences and function successfully? Maybe or maybe not, but ensuring staff is knowledgeable should be a criterion for success if not greater productivity.

Large shops enjoy the benefit of many staff members taking specific jobs working on focused tasks. Small shops need to have shared job skills to ensure there is quality in the processes and speedbumps are avoided. So, our bottom line is this. We find the idea that ‘our data is a mess’ is really the outcome of poor management and a lack of understanding of what information and knowledge mean to a charity. Anyone can ask for money, but only some can manage the processes around ‘The Ask’ effectively. The charity needs to come forward to define its expectations and instill accountability at all levels.

Join us now and rate your charity’s Chaos Quotient.

Chaos Quotient

Who said we need to use the database ... we like spreadsheets and little lists!

1. Database is not being used and donations are being recorded elsewhere. 2. New staff members do not use the donor database because senior managers have not mandated its use. 3. Some donor gifts are manually receipted. 4. Special events are handled on spreadsheets. 5. We were unable to invite all previous guests to a special event as lists not recorded in the donor management software were lost. 6. We don’t record how much people spend at the event so we don’t know who the big supporters are. 7. Documents and lists are everywhere, finding what you are looking for is time intensive. 8. Getting a mailing list takes days because the information has not been centralized ... it's stored in word processing documents, on spreadsheets, in homemade access databases, on paper, in someone's smartphone or contact management system, or elsewhere? 9. There is no organizational history; we don't even know who past board members have been. 10. We aren’t accountable for recording touch points with donors, they are non-existent.

Training is a cost. Trial and error produce a creative mix of methods!

1. New staff members are not trained because senior managers don't mandate training. It is not required. 2. Staff turnover has been an issue and no one can find any contact information on donors or community supporters. 3. The head of fund development left and we are at a loss as to where to begin so we start again. 4. A staff member left who was really good at creating mailing lists, letters, and emails. Now, no one knows. 5. Grant proposals have been written. Some were accepted and some were declined. We have tried to find the status of all requests and what is still outstanding.

Controls are not something we are interested in!

1. Software updates have been left undone because no one is responsible for ensuring new versions are up to date. 2. We have donors who have given multi-year pledges, the documentation has been lost. 3. We have donors who pledged but have not paid. We don't have a follow-up policy to handle this situation so we left it. Outcomes 1. Fundraising dollars at events have decreased or not increased. 2. The ability to inform donors and the public about the charity is onerous and time-consuming. 3. Donors call in and no one can find information on their gifts. 4. One of our big donors called to say they wouldn't be supporting us in the future. 5. We are in constant scramble mode, and no one is enjoying their job, morale is low, and stress is high.

Chaos Scoring

Give yourself 5 points for every Yes. Add your total and this is your CQ%. • Anything over 30 suggests a problem. • Over 50 and there are definitely some issues that need addressing. • After 50, it’s all downhill!

Contact us if you need HELP!

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