The Database Matrix - Part 1

Finding your database match will deepen engagement with your supporters.

How do you have a meaningful relationship with 1000, or 10,000 people? Ten years ago, I was asking myself this question knowing that there had to be a better way than sifting through the folder of Excel spreadsheets that listed my organization’s supporters.

I dreaded this task. Besides being labour intensive, mining data from spreadsheets is at best a challenge and does not support identifying ways to better communicate with the people who wanted to support our work. Back then, I wish I knew what I do now: there is a better way.

Finding the right suite of database tools (often referred to as a contact management systems, or CMS) won’t only save you time and grief, but also can be a powerful way to deepen your organization’s impact by allowing you to engage, authentically and consistently, with more people in specific and targeted ways.

At the heart of every good engagement program is a philosophy of relationship building. If we want to grow our list of supporters and deepen the ways our supporters get behind our work, then we need to make sure that they know, and are inspired by, what we are about. But, relationships go two ways. So, we have to learn what our supporters are about too: why they are inspired by our work and what mutual goals we share.

We do relationship building every day in our personal lives -- with other parents at our kids’ bus stop, with co-workers in the lunchroom, with family at reunions.  Information about these relationships is stored in our brain. This is called social cognition--a process by which our brain creates a framework to understand and categorize our different relationships. This framework, largely unconscious, allows us to make judgments and determines how we interact with the people in our lives.  Relationship-building is a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human. But, for those of us who work in fields where we regularly foster and build multiple relationships, our brains can quickly become overwhelmed by keeping track of them all.

Enter databases. When our brains are weary, a good database can help take a load off. Not only can it manage the relationships any one person in the organization is developing, it can manage the relationships that all of your staff - and in many cases volunteers - are developing. Organizations that are managing, learning from and developing these relationships inherently run more efficient, targeted and ultimately successful engagement programs.  Why? Because they are building meaningful relationships with a constantly growing base of supporters -- with 10s of 1000s of supporters.


The Database Matrix Series 

Part 1 - The Database Matrix

Part 2 - Why use a database anyway?

Part 3 - Five steps for choosing your new supporter database

Part 4 - Before deciding on a new database...

Part 5 - Setting up for success: integration, staff buy-in, training

Part 6 - But we are volunteer run with little capacity. What do we do?

Part 7 - Your database and communication workflows