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Database management for nonprofits

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By Rhoni Rakos |February 6, 2024

As a nonprofit, keeping track of your supporters and donors and managing member relationships is an essential part of how you fulfill your mission. And whether you have a few people entering and maintaining data or a large team with their own areas of speciality, locking in the best practices for database management is key to making sure your database works for you, not against you.

From ensuring you have the right degree of system administration support to the role database administration plays in cybersecurity, here’s everything you need to know about database management for nonprofits.

Database management for nonprofits

Contents :

  • Why should an organization have a database?
  • Best practices for nonprofit database management
    • Work with a dedicated system administrator
    • Invest in the right resources
    • See database management as a cybersecurity issue
    • Embrace new features and ways of working
  • Features a great nonprofit database should have
    • Readily available support
    • Seamless updating
    • A wide range of compatible management tools

Why should an organization have a database?

Why should an organization have a databaseIn a nutshell, nonprofits should have a database because it is the central hub for recording and keeping information about their members, donors and supporters.

But as well as being a repository of data, your organization’s database can also help you track key data such as contact information and each person’s engagement. It can also send automated communications and report on the success of campaigns.

As a result, a database and CRM like Salesforce is a powerful tool for optimizing the experience of donors and supporters, delivering greater personalization and boosting retention rates.

fusionSpan worked to update antiquated data systems with a new nonprofit Salesforce implementation.

Best practices for nonprofit database management

Best practices for nonprofit database managementAlthough not every database and team will face the same challenges, there are certain best practices to follow when it comes to database management.

1. Work with a dedicated system administrator

The most important element of database management is always your system administrator. 

When you have multiple people in a team entering data and owning their part of the database, managing data integrity is essential to prevent sensitive data being compromised. That job should be assigned to a dedicated system administrator, whose main priority is managing security profiles, updating permissions and ensuring your nonprofit’s database is up to date.

It’s not just a case of administering access to the database as a whole – it can also be as granular as allowing certain people access only to the specific data rows and fields that are relevant to their role. When you’re getting down to that level of security control, you need a system administrator to manage and keep track of it.

2. Invest in the right resources

It might sound obvious, but one of the best practices for database management is making sure you invest in having the right people and skills on the job.

When you’re looking at a system administrator, there are two ways nonprofits can go about filling this role. One is to hire a system administrator and embed them within your organization. The other is to find a partner like fusionSpan to provide fractional administration and support. 

Working with a partner to provide database administration can be highly beneficial to nonprofits, as it allows them to quickly bring in a trained system administrator without the ramp-up time that comes with hiring new. And if that person leaves, it’s east for a partner to move around resources and step in so that you don’t miss a beat.

3. See database management as a cybersecurity matter

When database management isn’t upheld, it can have significant implications for your cybersecurity.

For one, if you have too many users with total access to the database and no administrator to implement controls, that creates multiple points where bad actors can gain access to your sensitive customer data. But there’s also risk from within your own team if all of those users have permission to access, update and override data that should be locked away from them.

The implementation of a new CRM should start with tightening access before gradually opening things up to more members of the team, but often people want to rip off the bandaid rather than move in stages. Then when a leak or an attack happens, they realize the vulnerabilities that should have been addressed.

But by that point, it’s too late. The whole point of database management and cybersecurity is to be proactive, not reactive. From the very beginning you and your system administrators should be managing database access to cover off any vulnerabilities before they can put your nonprofit at risk.

4. Embrace new features and ways of working

When the technology behind your database is constantly being updated, it’s best practice to ensure your organization is keeping up to speed.

That doesn’t just mean updating the software – it’s also about exploring what’s new with each update and how that can help make your database management more effective. When each new release comes out, your system administrator should be asking if it can allow your team to do any part of their job better – and if so, they should lead the adoption of it and enforce the best possible practice.

Not only does this ensure your CRM and database aren’t falling behind, but it can also be used to better empower the other database users within your organization. For example, they might not usually be trained to pull reports, but if a new release makes it easier for them, you could review whether training would empower them to add more value in their role.

Features a great nonprofit database should have

Features a great nonprofit database should haveA large part of database management also comes down to which database you choose for your organization. And when choosing a database, it’s important to look out for features like an ecosystem with readily available support, regular and seamless updates, and compatibility with a wide range of tools.

1. Readily available support

When a dedicated system administrator is such a key part of database management, you need to make sure your nonprofit database has that kind of support available to use.

Traditionally nonprofits and membership associations have run on a variety of legacy systems like Raiser’s Edge, Luminate, IMS and NetForum. And while each of those systems has its own merits, it’s difficult to find administrators with the right depth of training in niche databases.

The benefit of working with Salesforce is that it’s a much larger ecosystem that isn’t specific to just the nonprofit world. That means you’re more likely to find system administrators with the talent to support you, whether you’re hiring internally or looking for a partner.

2. Seamless updating

With your database playing such an integral role in how your nonprofit operates, keeping the software up to date is crucial. And in an ideal world, your nonprofit database should strike a balance between releasing frequent updates and not demanding too much time from your system administrator to implement them.

Salesforce updates and patches are automatically applied as soon as they’re available, and can happen so seamlessly that you might not even notice a patch has taken place. That takes the burden of updating your CRM and database away from the system administrator, giving them more time to focus on tasks like optimizing system performance.

3. A wide range of compatible management tools

As the core of how you interact with your supporters and members, your database needs to be able to link up with the other elements of your tech ecosystem, as well as with other tools to help with updating and cleaning entries in your database.

Salesforce is built with that kind of connectivity in mind. The Salesforce AppExchange gives nonprofits access to a range of tools ready to integrate with their CRM, from appointment schedulers to email campaign automation. And when it comes time to carry out a data cleanse<link to blog 01 of batch when published>, there are tools like Cloudingo and DemandTools to make cleaning your Salesforce quicker and easier.

It might be time to find out if Salesforce can save your team time, while amplifying your mission. Fill out a contact form to get started.

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Rhoni Rakos
Database management for nonprofits

Rhoni is a digital strategist and customer experience designer with over 10 years in the field designing digital experiences using user-centered research and design strategies. She has focused her career on mission-driven organizations, non-profits and associations, ensuring they using technology to maximize their impact. Rhoni is excited to be developing fusionSpan's Digital Strategy specialization, helping organizations harness the power of intuitive and powerful experiences across their digital ecosystems.

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