Lesson learned

At one time in my life, I worked at a nonprofit business reference library. We – or, the librarians, at least – provided patrons with access to computerized databases full of information for market research, finding startup funding, and more. Since I wasn’t a librarian, nobody seemed to think it was important for me to learn to use our technology or even really know what it was capable of. Early in my time there, my boss asked me to build him a list of all the businesses in a certain zip code and get the contact information of each business owner. That sounded like a huge task to me, and because I didn’t know about the technology tools available to me, it was a huge task. I spent hours, days even, digging through lists on the Chamber of Commerce website and doing some good old fashioned googling. Then I copied and pasted that information into a spreadsheet. What a pain.

Finally, I turned to a librarian for some commiseration, and she reacted with surprise instead. She grabbed my laptop and showed me, right then and there, a database that our library subscribed to that allows users to search for businesses by zip code, with the name and phone number of each business owner listed in the record. With the click of a button, that information was automatically pulled into a spreadsheet, no copying and pasting required. What I had spent so much time doing, that librarian accomplished in about a minute. Not just embarrassing, but wasteful. Because I hadn’t been properly trained in our technology – or even been made aware that it existed! – my makeshift solution wasted time and money that could have been spent doing other important work.

Why have the technology if no one knows how to use it?

I’m afraid that this is often the case with technology. Many organizations are short-staffed and low on resources and think they have no time to train their new hires on technology, hoping that they will “figure it out on their own” or receive informal training from other employees, or just never touch that technology at all. I’ve also heard from a number of nonprofit workers that their organization bought a CRM but literally no one on staff knows how to use it or why they even have it; they just hope they will figure it out someday when there’s time. It’s disheartening to hear that so many organizations are not getting the full use out of their technology and that the companies that make their databases don’t even train them on their use!

While not all staff members need to know how to use all of your software, at the very least everyone who staffs your front desk, helps your clients, works with computers, interacts with the public, or supervises those employees, should be trained in its use. When everyone has access to technology, information can be shared more easily and efficiently.

Using your database democratically

A database can include all kinds of information on donors and clients that staff members need to share. If a major donor walks in and gives your receptionist a great compliment about your organization, you’d want your development director to know so they could follow up and let that donor know they are heard and appreciated. Perhaps the receptionist does tell the development director, who does follow up with the donor, but then what? Without access to a database, these staff members would simply have to remember the interaction, which means that if someone forgets, or leaves their job, the information is lost. The donor might feel snubbed and decline to make donations in the future.

With a CRM, one of those staff members could then put a note in that donor’s record, such as:

Visited 12/29/2016, commented on our “amazing work”. DD called & left thank-you message inviting to coffee next week.

These notes are so simple you might not even think you need to write them, but keeping all the relevant information in one place, not fragmented in staff members’ memories, is essential to relationship-building, fundraising, and carrying out your mission.

But if staff members are not trained on how to use your database, you might lose this information.

No train, no gain

When your organization is looking for new technology, make sure you partner with a company that provides ongoing training. There’s no way to get a good return on your investment when your staff members have to figure out the technology on their own. Don’t let your software provider leave you high and dry!

For current Databank clients, remember you can sign up for free training at any time. Check out our training calendar if you have new staff members who will be using your Databank, or just need a refresher.

  • Zach Shefska March 17, 2017, 10:55 am

    Great article, this is a refreshing read. Unfortunately this isn’t just a problem in the nonprofit technology world, rather it occurs across the board (for profit, nonprofit and everywhere in-between).

    What I find really frustrating is when you purchase a software and your sales person is top-notch but then the “account services” representative is lackluster. Your sales rep promised you a response within an hour from your account representative but now that you have an account representative they never get back to you.

    It’s behavior like that at any software company that really makes me sick.