No matter what suite of systems you use, and quite possibly for the volunteer organization especially, investing time in charting out your workflows for engagement will go a long way to getting you ready to invest in database solutions. Truly effective use of database systems is all about triggering workflows - who communicates what to who, when and to what effect? And this is true whether you are volunteer or highly staffed. No matter what system you have, or where you want to go, spend some time thinking about these workflows can help your engagement tremendously.
To determine these workflows start to map how a supporter is channeled through your organization. First you get a name and contact for a supporter - where and how does that get tracked? Then that supporter gets contacted by your group - is this an email, a phone call or a text message? Who is responsible for this follow-up and within what given timeline? What happens next? Are they grouped into a mass mailing list which channels future communications? Do they get a ‘welcome series’ which helps orient them to your work? Are they asked to attend a future event, become a volunteer or to donate to your efforts? If so when and how does this engagement take place?
Hopefully, you can now start to see how charting these workflows can help you understand ‘how’ you engage your supporters. The more you understand your own organization’s workflows can help you define how you use your CMS tools most effectively. It can, in some cases, also help define which CMS is best for your group by examining how (or if) the tool will support ‘easing’ the workflow.The best CMS tools will make your engagement workflows EASIER and will ease the capacity burden that it takes to engage your supporters most effectively.
Choosing a new database (or a first one) can seem like a daunting task. There are a lot of systems on the market and they are all made to sound like they will solve all your engagement problems. The truth of the matter is, no system is perfect, the best systems are the ones that match your engagement priorities and needs with what any given system offers. The best way to define this is to narrow your search and test different systems against a needs assessment that defines your group’s priorities. Get your selection down to two or three options and test them. Do not just talk to the sales representatives of the tools - remember, their job is to sign you up - talk with other organizations, similar to your own, who use the tools. Have multiple staff and/or volunteers test your short-listed solutions and have them rank the tools using the same set of criteria. Finally make a decision and don’t look back. Plan your transition and budget for it to take more time then you think. Offer ample time to prepare and clean data, train staff, and test the tool before you launch fully. Depending on how complex your needs are this process could take a few months or up to a year. Finally, continuous learning is important. Sometimes your group may not harness all that a tool has to offer at the onset. Once you get comfortable using a contacts management systems, always strive to learn more, do more and improve processes.
What has your experience been with your database? What do you wish you had known before that you do now? Please share with us, we’d love to include your lessons in our future trainings and coaching on the topic to databases.
The Database Matrix Series