FundRaiser Blog

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10 Best Practices for Managing a Database

Note from Sasha: I have worked with Robert L. Weiner at the TechSoup forums where we have both been volunteer forum moderators in the database and software section for many years. Come visit us there sometime! Over the years, I've come to respect his depth of knowledge and skill at sharing about best practices for using donor databases. This article by him is one of my favorites. Robert is an independent technological consultant to non-profits and is not affiliated with FundRaiser Software. I'm sharing the article because I believe it is one of the most concisely helpful resources written on the subject of donor database best practices, and that FundRaiser users will benefit from reading it.

After people, data is your most important asset.-- John Kenyon

  1. Left unattended, databases will turn into piles of mush. Therefore, develop data entry policies and procedures, and train everyone who enters data.

  2. Excel is not a database, and is one of the leading causes of dirty data. It is difficult to enforce data entry standards in Excel. (like only allowing legal U.S. state codes). And anyone who can update your spreadsheet can see and change anything.

  3. Someone needs to be in charge of training, user support, and data quality (see #1). At a small organization, this might be a small part of someone's job. At a large organization, it might need to be a whole department.

  4. Run backups religiously. Be sure to test them periodically to make sure you can recover data.

  5. Keep a copy of your data off-site. This can be done by using an online backup service, a vendor that provides offsite storage and retrieval, or even by sending a backup home with a staff member. The latter is risky, however. Data taken off site is subject to theft, loss, copying, and malicious acts by disgruntled employees.

  6. Do all you can to prevent staff from downloading sensitive data (like social security numbers or credit card data) to laptops or memory sticks. Use encryption on your laptops and memory sticks. Tools like Identity Finder, Proventsure, SENF, and Spider will scan your computers for sensitive data.

  7. Require strong passwords. Do not share passwords. Change passwords regularly.

  8. Monitor your data entry. Run reports that look for common errors. Identify staff members who repeatedly make errors and provide additional training. If the errors continue, take away their data entry permissions.

  9. Run your database on a need-to-know basis. Give staff and volunteers access to only the data they need to see or change to do their jobs -- but make sure that they do have access to the data they need.

  10. Make sure your database has enough security options. You should be able to provide read-only access. You might want to have the ability to provide read-only access to just a portion of your data, like names and addresses but not gifts. You should be able to provide update access to only certain portions of your data, like updating addresses but not entering gifts. You should be able to restrict access to functions like posting a gift batch or importing online donations. And you should be able to restrict the ability to run mass updates or delete records.

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