Is Your Database Management Successful?

I recently had the honor of joining the ASAE Executive Management Section (EMS) Council, which held its first meeting of the year at the ASAE Annual Meeting. One focus of the EMS Council is volunteerism: Defining what volunteerism is, how to get members and volunteers more engaged, and how to measure the success of our volunteer programs.

It was that last point that got me to thinking about measuring the success of an association’s database. I’m often asked by my new clients “Do we have the most dysfunctional database you’ve ever worked with?” (Yes, a LOT of my clients ask me this!) Of course, only one can be “worst” so my answer is always, “No, this is not the worst I’ve ever seen.”

So how do you measure if your database management is successful? Here are three suggestions:

  1. Define what success means to your organization. (I’ll call this your “success metric.”) Does success mean continued membership growth? Improved fundraising? Higher event attendance? Greater volunteer engagement? More participation in your certification program? Chances are it’s a combination of these.Two critical notes: What defines success for your organization is NOT necessarily the same as success for another organization. Just because Association X decides that 95% membership retention means they are successful, it does not mean you are or aren’t successful because you have a different membership retention percentage. Your success metric is typically independent of what other organization’s are doing or measuring.And second, your definition of success should align with your organization’s mission. Put another way, how does being successful in improved fundraising, for example, advance your organization’s mission?
  2. Your success metric should be supported by the database. Whatever your definition of success is, your database should be able to support you in that endeavor. A client I once worked with had defined participation in their certification program as one of their success metrics. But the system they had in place made the management of their certification program extremely labor intensive. As a result, customer service to current and prospective certificants was abysmally slow, which resulted in poor participation in the program. After converting to an improved data management system with online self-service features, the association was able to improve its service and turnaround on applications, and the program began to grow rapidly.
  3. Your success metric should be measurable. For one of my clients, deliverability of snail-mail and email was critically important to them, because they offered over 50 distinct educational workshops, programs, and events throughout the year. It was crucial that their snailmail and email was getting delivered, so they tracked the bounceback rate for both of these mediums for every delivery made. Over the course of a year or more, through diligent management of the data, this association was able to reduce its snailmail bounceback rate to under 2% and its email bounceback rate to less than 5%. They were very happy with those numbers, especially as they compared to bounceback rates from several years prior. By making the metric measurable, they were able to see their progress.

For the EMS Council, we’ll have to identity what success looks like for volunteerism, and what metrics we can use to measure that success. You’ll do much the same to measure the success of your database.

It is important to remember that your database is a tool, a means to an end. The question “Is my database management successful?” can be answered, “Yes, if it is supporting the success metrics of my association.”


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