If it’s not in the database, it did not happen

As part of the planning for our upcoming The Raiser’s Edge User Group meetings, we have found it useful to think about the popular topics from last year’s meetings. One in particular that presented as a common theme was the challenges around getting people to use the system – in particular, to actually update records and enter useful information.

If only it was as easy as telling staff to “make it so“, Jean Luc Picard style to get them to use and maintain information on the system. Many times it’s more like negotiating with Quark, getting all manner of protestation and counter offer Ferengi style. [Don’t you just love random Star Trek references?]

Here are a few ideas that were shared at the User Group meetings last year that may help some to make it so:

1. Make it… start from the top – “Attitude reflect[s] leadership.”

To encourage a greater use of The Raiser’s Edge amongst the Executive and Personal Assistants across campus, the Vice-Chancellor of a Go8 University told the story of a how the University was able to solicit a substantial gift from a donor at a gala event by seating him next to an Academic pre-eminent in a field of particular interest to that donor.  He attributed the successful solicitation and the transformative gift that ensued to the person who had the foresight to enter what would become a critical piece of information regarding the interests of a then prospective donor. There is nothing much more motivating than for the leader(s) of an institution lauding the usefulness of the system and encouraging its use.

2. Make it… about hearts and minds – show the value

Getting a person to perform a task they perceive to be unnecessary administrative overhead is not easy without some sort of carrot or stick. Sometimes there is nothing for it than for you to actually spend the time to change perceptions, and create an understanding of the value of the information stored in the system and its upkeep. Be prepared for one of three things to happen – a) people will get it and start using the system; b) people won’t get it and you will have to try another tact; or c) you will find out that actually there is no value in storing the particular information you are asking people to enter. In any which case, a useful exercise.

3. Make it… as easy as possible

What helps increase adoption more than little-to-no-effort benefit realisation? Configuring your system views or processes so that only the necessary fields and functions present to the end-user, based on their role, will help increase adoption.

At an institution I worked at previously, we gave our Development and Alumni staff the ability to email their Alumni/donor contact reports to the system and have the reports recorded against the Alumni or donor record automagically. This resulted in an immediate increase in the number of contact reports and actions being filed which we were able to use to track and inform our prospect development. Behind the scenes, it required some technical nous to get his working, but the adoption was high because for the end-user it was easy to do.

4. Make it… fun – “Randy Thursdays”

A colleague shared a fun idea that they instituted at a previous organisation she’d worked at – “Random Thursdays” – which later became better known as “Randy Thursdays“. The idea was that the team would set aside time every Thursday to perform the “random” database updates that collected during the week – they made it fun by having people bring in snacks and sweets and because they were all doing the same task the social aspect resulted naturally.

Another idea may be to “gamify” it. Where you have the ability to generate statistics on the number of updates that users are performing on the system, this could well be the basis for Staff using the system and competing for some sort of prize. Perhaps even give different levels of points depending on the value or type of data update.

5. Make it… part of their KPIs

Depending on your particular disposition towards “the man” or sticking it to said “man” (not necessarily gender literal), this idea could be classified as a stick or a carrot. Where appropriate make it part of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for staff to update the system. This could be based on number of updates, or perhaps make it so that the main (or only) reporting method used for proof of activity is what has been entered on the system.

I have also seen examples where Development Managers did not have travel or other expenses relating to prospect/donor meetings reimbursed until they’d completed actions and entered their contact reports into the system.

6. Make it… leverage a tragedy

Last resort and if all else fails, leverage a bad result. I have seen a Development Manager reprimanded for making approaches to a particular prospective supporter who was also being solicited by a Development Manager from a another department. The danger was that prospective donor may become confused at the multiple approaches and or could not support both – a bad result.

On the surface, both Development Managers had claims as the prospective donor had relationships with their respective areas of the University – however, in this instance the Development Manager that was awarded the approval to proceed to solicitation was the one who had a clear record of meetings, solicitation plans, and communications recorded on the system.

I hope that this post was of interest and that you consider attending one of the upcoming The Raiser’s Edge User Group meetings. In the spirit of the sharing that occurs in our User Group meetings, I invite you to add your ideas with regard to getting people to use the system that have worked at your institution by leaving a comment.

See you at the User Group meetings! (Literally, at the one in Perth, Canberra, or Auckland)

“If it’s not in The Raiser’s Edge, it did not happen.” – variant of common database quote.

“Shut up Wesley!” – Capt. Jean Luc Picard