Many associations struggle with their management information systems and their membership databases. One of their primary struggles is the lack of centralized information. Too often, assns and non-profits keep separate databases for membership, events, sales, and other processes.When at all feasible, these databases should be combined into a single, centralized database. A centralized system means that for member Joe Smith, there is only one place a user has to go to find his name, primary address, and activities within the association. There are several benefits to moving your data to a centralized system.
Benefit #1: Data Integrity – The single greatest benefit of centralizing an assn’s data management is data integrity.One of the cardinal rules of database design is that no redundancy is allowed. That is, no piece of data should ever be repeated within the database. When an organization is operating multiple databases for the same group of people (for example, a membership database with a separate meeting registration database), they are by definition breaking this rule.And this leads to major data integrity issues. A centralized database means that each member has one primary record, with primary contact information. Thus when there is a change required (like a new phone number or email address), there is only one place to look to make these changes.
Benefit #2: Valuable broad marketing info/history – With all the information centralized, it is much easier to develop reports that show the broad range of activities that your members are engaged in. With multiple databases, records need to be matched, de-duping needs to occur, and the opportunity for duplicate records is greatly increased.
Benefit #3: Ease of training (it’s the same system for everything) – Another benefit of a centralized system is that the learning curve for users is greatly reduced. If all processes (membership, meetings, products, etc.) are in the same database, then users need only learn one system, not multiple systems.
Benefit #4: Support – With a centralized system, support is focused on one product. With many databases, even if they are built on the same platform, separate support is required for each.
What should you do? If you’ve got multiple databases operating in your assn, do whatever is possible to integrate the multiple databases into a single system. There are a wide variety of association management software (AMS) systems available that will manage membership, events, product sales, and much more, all in the same database.
If you already have a centralized system in place, be vigilant about not allowing other “shadow” databases to be created by users. These “shadow” databases could be kept in a spreadsheet, an email system, or another database program. Insist to all of users that they use only the centralized system, so that key data is not missed or lost.
This article originally appeared in Association Trends. Reprinted with permission.
In Christianity there is a commonly known list of “seven deadly sins,” which as Wikipedia explains, has been used to educate and instruct Christians concerning fallen humanity’s tendency to sin.
With that list in mind, I present the seven deadly sins of database management:
Simply put, sloth is excessive laziness. Sloth in data management will quickly lead to a poorly performing system. Examples of sloth in database management include not taking time and effort to keep the data clean, not keeping the software up to date, and ignoring the need for documentation and training.
This is the belief that one is better than all others. In database management this manifests itself as the belief that everything is fine, and there is no need to focus on more actively managing the data or database. Things will just take care of themselves. But as the saying goes, pride comes before the fall. Prideful management of data will eventually lead to big and potentially embarrassing and/or expensive mistakes.
The lust I see most often among my clients is the lust for better, faster, and shinier technology toys. But lust can also allow us to make excuses for not really exploiting the tools we already have. Lust for new things too often blinds us from seeing the value of things we already have.
One of the most common things I hear from my clients is: “We must be the most dysfunctional group you’ve ever worked with.” The fact is, too many associations operate under the assumption that they’re doing much worse with data management than their peers. This is a form of envy (“I wish we were as good as THEY are!”). Don’t get caught in this trap.
When it comes to data management, storage is cheap. And that leads us to over-consume, data management’s own form of gluttony. Too many associations are trying to collect too much information from their members and customers. And frequently, this data is never really used, or it is used very ineffectively.
The greatest form of greed I see among associations is the expectation of perfection. Too often senior management believes that if we only invest in the right technology, all of our data management problems will disappear. This is a subtle but deadly form of greed, the belief that we can have it all. The reality is that data management requires ongoing and active engagement, and perfection can never be achieved.
Wrath is anger. And many associations are really, really angry about their data management systems. Sometimes that anger is justified, but often it is misdirected or results from unfair expectations (see gluttony). Anger may be justified but be careful that it doesn’t become all-consuming.
In my experience, very rarely does an association exhibit all seven deadly sins. But too many associations are guilty of several of them. If you honestly assessed your situation, where would you fall?