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So a database has fallen into your lap. Now what?

IMG_3719Earlier in September, Tech Networks of Boston hosted a Roundtable session on database management with Nicole Shiner of United Way of Massachusetts Bay/Merrimack Valley and Shane Culliton of Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation.

Nonprofit employees who attended were experiencing situations such as:

"I’m new to a nonprofit organization, and now the database responsibility falls to me. Help!"

"My predecessor just left this nonprofit organization, and now the database responsibility falls to me. Help!"

The discussion went over a process of beginning to understand how one's current database works and if the data collected is the right data to track progress toward desired outcomes.  Nonprofits were asked to first understand what they wanted their system to collect, and how to move it so it is aligned with their organization's data needs.  This discussion helped participants think of what changes need to be made to effectively present their findings to their organization and build a case for data collection change.

It was a great session for nonprofit professionals to share their experiences and frustrations with the room to obtain feedback and suggestions.

TNB's moderator, Deborah Finn, asked a couple questions to Shane and Nicole after the session:

Did you learn anything interesting, useful, or amusing at the Roundtable session?

Shane: I learned that many of my counterparts have the same challenges that I do…especially in terms of the “culture of change”; when that issue came up, there were several follow up comments and a lot of head nodding.

Nicole: Agree with Shane's comments.  We are not alone.

Do you have any general insights, advice, or comments on the topic for nonprofit professionals who weren't able to be there?

Shane: The tool (database) will not be effective if 1. the org as a whole is not behind it and/or 2. It was designed prior to org knowing what they really wanted from it.
The information within any knowledge management tool must be that which people actually care about accessing so that someone will care enough to exert effort of some kind if it’s missing.

Nicole: When you go to roll this out, make it fun & engaging.  Show staff at all levels how this will be a benefit to their work (not a burden.)  Have a test system set-up, so you are not doing everything "live." Build on your organizations current culture as a way to engage them, if there is a lot of competition between departments  (friendly competition) use that as a way top get staff to engage.  Make user guides that are both useful and easy to understand.

Did you and Nicole learn anything interesting, useful, or amusing from the experience of collaborating to plan and present this Roundtable session?

Shane: I thought it was interesting that we were on the opposite sides of a certain reporting structure. Nicole actually receives the United Way reports I facilitate semi-annually. Less “work related”, Nicole and I laughed a lot during the process…usually when we were recalling real world “obstacles” to “doing it right”. It was a great time.

Nicole:  I think being on the opposite sides was very helpful and made it so we could come at the topic both ways (funder and grantee.)  Agree with Shane's comments above.  :)

Did anything especially surprise or interest you about what the other nonprofit professionals at the Roundtable said about their experiences, challenges, insights?

Shane: I was happy to hear how everyone was generally concerned with their orgs experiencing the benefits of their role if used correctly. There was some lamenting of our challenges, but they never took the form of “arrrgh! This job. Why bother?”

Nicole: There was genuine concern that without overcoming these challenges, their colleagues would miss out on a valuable tool.

Check out some of the pictures of the session below:

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