Effective Database Management – The 10 Most Important Rules for Managing Your Association’s Data


Data is a key asset for any association. It’s what drives member engagement, increases member retention, creates additional revenue, and enhances marketing efforts. The majority of associations are not doing as bad as they think at managing data. Still, there are always opportunities for improvement.

According to Wes Trochlil, president of Effective Data Management, it’s also important to remember that no matter what project you’re working on, there are always three elements involved in a successful endeavor. People, Process and Technology. Where those three elements intersect is where ideal operations exist.

So if you have the right people in place, the processes are clear and explain how to do things properly and if you have the right technology in place you will be on the road to success. Interestingly enough, when things go wrong, it’s not usually the people or the technology at fault, it’s the processes.

Trochlil offers 10 tips on how to make sure your association’s processes for maintaining data don’t end up the weak link in the chain to data management, compliance and governance.

Tip #1: Create data entry guidelines and user guidelines. This is all about documenting processing. Data entry guidelines tell us what type of data is being entered into any given field (i.e., if you’re entering an address, are you spelling out “street” or “St.”). User guidelines tells us how we ‘re processing data for a given process (i.e., when a member joins, what happens).

Tip #2: Training. There are several things to keep in mind: Training must be made available to new staff and as a refresher later on; over-the-shoulder training is useless; and employees should be trained and/or tested in a sandbox, not in a live system. If trained in a live system, employees are more likely to react anxiously, worried that they may make a mistake that could be permanently damaging.

Tip #3: Eliminate shadow systems. A shadow system is any list of data being managed actively outside your primary system (Outlook list, spreadsheet, etc.). Every organization struggles with this, no matter how good.

Tip #4: Don’t manage to the exception. Many times, associations build processes for the exception rather than the rule. For example: An association with lawyers for members only wanted a certain type of lawyer as a member. So they created an approval process. It was explained that when a new member joined the process – from application, to payment to approval, to membership – could take up to 60 days for the applicant get full membership.

Tip #5: Capture all of your contacts in primary system. Everyone should be doing business within the same system. Confusion can arise when there are multiple systems operating separate and independent of one another. In the case of third party systems and managing data, data should be brought back to primary system so that everyone in the organization can have access to the information if necessary.

Tip #6: Processes for capturing non-financial, non-volunteer Interactions. Capturing contacts that have value outside of financial and volunteerism can be a huge opportunity.
This refers to:
– People who want to volunteer
– People who give suggestions

Tip #7: Create data Integrity reports. Such reports are designed to uncover whether you have erroneous data in your system. Think what types of queries and reports can point out bad data (i.e., a report searching for whether there are “@” symbols in the email list, if an email address is missing one, it’s obviously not a good address). Weeding out bad data is something that must be done frequently if you want it to be successful.

When auditing old data, a good rule of thumb is to get rid of data that is three years old or older, especially if there’s been no interaction with the subjects in that time.

Tip #8: Start an internal users group. Even the most well-intentioned people can work with blinders on, working on and creating shadow systems unknowingly. An internal user group helps open the lines of communication to make people aware of what’s going on outside of their personal silos and encouraging cooperation.

Tip #9: Practice database Public Relations. PR is about presenting the best face and the positive of a product or project. The reality of data management is that no one cares until they’re involved. Database PR is about putting over the process so that when something negative does happens people will still have faith that things can and do get better.

Tip #10: Pursue success, not perfection. Understand, as soon as data goes into your system it’s out of date. People die, lose jobs, and change addresses. So be comfortable knowing that your data is never going to be completely perfect and up to date.

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