Long, long ago in a galaxy far away, I took my first job in development.
I had run a department at another nonprofit theater – managing a full-time staff of 25.
In a way, it felt like I’d been knocked down a few pegs.
I didn’t realize how lucky my timing actually was.
In the absence of a development director, the theater was reorganizing.
So the marketing director and I had a chance to build the theater’s first individual giving program.
Looking back, we were lucky to come to it with no preconceptions.
First lesson – an open mind, even when you just don’t know enough to know you don’t know enough – can be a good thing.
We hired consultants to help us get started.
One guy was the outward face of the team.
He had lots of experience in politics. He was polished. He knew people and dropped a name or two. He hooked us up with a good copywriter.
The other consultant was the data guy.
Quiet. Not flashy. He was usually left to talk with me as the junior member of the team.
Now remember, this was long ago. Computers were dummy terminals connected to a single mainframe. Software was pretty basic.
Our software was a quickly-written fundraising module sold with a ticketing program. Honestly, it was an after-thought.
This quiet, number-crunching consultant taught me the importance of keeping records.
Good records. Without fancy software, we used paper to track our mailings.
I tallied things by hand. We kept the sheets in a binder.
But it worked. I could put together reports so we knew things like our response rates.
I could tell you how many days after we mailed to expect our best response, or how much we’d raised to date.
I could see what worked and what didn’t work.
I never left the care of our data alone again.
Even when I had a trusted staff person to do data entry, I checked.
I couldn’t sit back and assume it was below me if I wanted it to be perfect.
(I still stuff envelopes, too, when needed. In fact, I’m an envelope stuffing machine.)
Being without a good database is like missing an arm. Because you need good information to do a good job. Information tells you who your donors are.
It tells you how they give and when they give. It might even give you clues about why they give.
It allows you to treat your donors well, too.
How do you like it when you get a solicitation with your name spelled wrong? Or the wrong gift amount?
Second lesson – don’t dis your data. Or undervalue it.
And don’t hand off data-entry newest, least experienced staff person and forget about it.
Watch it like a mother hen. Be persnickety.
Because as Yogi said,
You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.