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The Financial Crisis and Your Database
14 October 2008, by , in Data Management, 3 comments

As I watch the world financial crisis unfold, one contributing factor that has arisen is that there is a “lack of trust” among and between banks. In other words, because Bank A can’t trust what Bank B says about its solvency, Bank A won’t loan Bank B money. As a result, banks have stopped lending money to each other. And thus we have a credit crisis.

It struck me that this is a very good analogue to trust in your organization’s database. Many, many times, when I meet with clients or potential clients, one of the core challenges being faced is that of trust. Or more to the point, lack of trust in the database and the data it contains.

Recently I met with a mid-sized association (~30 staff) that is having some major challenges with their database. In the course of our discussions, it became clear that no one on staff really trusts any of the data in the database. Finance does not believe the numbers coming from membership. The events department has moved to a separate event registration system. The foundation went off and purchased its own database, even though the primary database could probably do everything they needed.

All because of a lack of trust.

And as a result, the organization is completely ineffective with their data management. Staff is frustrated, the executive director if frustrated, and nothing is improving.

I’ve written all over my blog and in articles about the need for business rules, documentation, and good training. All of these tools are a foundation for building trust in the database. Once you’ve lost that trust, it’s extremely difficult to get it back.

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3 Comments on "The Financial Crisis and Your Database"

David M. Patt, CAE - 15 October 2008 Reply

What is it they don't trust about the database?

Wes Trochlil - 15 October 2008 Reply

David, as my post says, they don't trust the data in the database. Specifically, they don't believe that the data they're getting from the database is accurate or complete. And because the data is "bad" they don't believe that the database itself can "do" what they need it to do.

Kevin - 15 October 2008 Reply

Wes, I will disagree with you a little bit as to the real reason that the scenario you describe happens time and time again in associations (and probably lots of other kinds of organizations). The EXCUSE is, "I don't trust the data in the database." The REAL REASON is, "I didn't create this database, I didn't pick this database, I don't 'own' this database, I don't like the way this database works, and the hell with this database." This is why in so many organizations you find various departments scuttling off to create their own systems (sometimes surreptitiously). When confronted, they claim that they had no choice because they "don't trust the data in the database" or something similar. Assuming that the association has done its job and implemented a system that does what it really is supposed to do ... and assuming that the association provides the real training and support that people need to be able to effectively do their jobs ... there are still some individuals who will fight tooth and nail (and create all sorts of excuses) to do things THEIR way with the system THEY want. At this point, it becomes the responsibility of senior staff to recognize what is really going on, and make this a management issue, not just a training issue.

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“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

“We came to Wes because we were very frustrated with our existing AMS and we wanted to improve our capabilities as soon as practicable. Wes very quickly helped us through a process of identifying our needs, identifying potential vendors, and selecting a new system that we’ll be able to move into very quickly. I especially appreciated Wes’s candor about our processes as well as the systems we were looking at. He was a great resource to have in a period of high anxiety for our organization. I would highly recommend Wes for any similar project.”

Jack Chiasson, CMP Executive Director
National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies

“Wes was able to come in and offer tangible, relevant advice that made us more productive immediately. I value his understanding of databases but more so, his understanding of how nonprofits work. There was no lost time educating him about how membership organizations are “different.” Wes recommended changes in processes as well as tips and tricks that were easy to implement made an immediate positive impact.”

Mary Pat Paris, Executive Director
International Registration Plan

Mary Pat Paris
International Registration Plan

“This is the second database implementation we’ve done since I have been at Western Arts Alliance (WAA). The first I did on my own. This time we engaged Wes Trochlil as our database planning consultant. Let me tell you, this process is a whole lot easier having Wes on your team! For a small association like WAA, it’s tempting for board and EDs to question the justification and expense of a database planning consultant. But it’s the small associations that need Effective Database Management the most. Wes strengthened our planning process, clarified our needs requirements, helped us steer around solutions that couldn’t meet our objectives, and saved us money in the long haul.”

Tim Wilson, Executive Director
Western Arts Alliance

Tim Wilson
Western Arts Alliance
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