Teach a Man to Fish…

… and you feed him for a lifetime, so the well-known proverb goes. This familiar platitude has its parallel in the world of fundraising. In many advancement shops, fundraisers and other end users have no choice but to request lists from advancement services specialists, sometimes having to wait a week or more for the request to be fulfilled. Then the list isn’t exactly what the user wanted, and so a revised request goes back to advancement services, etc., and several rounds of back-and-forth ensue. After much time is lost and a great deal of frustration is created, the list is finally completed.

But many modern fundraising CRM systems include user-friendly query building tools that enable end users to create their own lists without having to know how to write SQL, which begs the question: Why do so many advancement shops restrict users’ ability to create their own queries, thus perpetuating the situation described above?

A few typically heard reasons:

  • “The fundraisers don’t want to learn to do it themselves.”
  • “The MGOs don’t have the time to learn how to do it.”
  • “There’s a lot to remember (e.g. special exclusions, organizational rules, etc.) so it’s really easy to make mistakes, and we’re the ones who hear about it when that happens.”

Are these claims true? Let’s address these objections and suggest some benefits to a more inclusive approach.

  • Some end users won’t want to learn to create their own queries, and others may not have the aptitudes necessary to become accurate query builders. This population can continue to rely on the specialists. But many end users, given the permissions and the training, would be very happy to become increasingly self-sufficient in their jobs.
  • Given the choice between investing some time in learning how to query and waiting for days every time they need to submit a list request, many end users will gladly choose the former.
  • A distinction can be made between when a user needs a simple list for the performance of a task vs. when a user needs a formal list for something more consequential such as a mass mailing or major event invitation. In the latter case it makes sense to continue to rely on the specialists. Properly trained users can be trusted to know the difference and act accordingly. Trusting staff to do the right thing and empowering them to be more self-sufficient increases engagement as well.
  • Investing the time and effort in carefully-planned training not only can help make employees better at their jobs but can also help give fundraisers and other end users greater insight into the depth of expertise of their advancement services colleagues and increase their sensitivity toward data management issues.
  • With a reduced need to fulfill list requests, advancement services specialists can focus more on the high-level analytical efforts they are capable of.

Having worked with dozens of advancement teams I have also found that the attitudes reflected above often point to deeper underlying tensions between fundraisers and advancement services practitioners in our advancement departments. Executed correctly within a more collaborative and collectively-intended organizational structure, the process of teaching more end users to pull their own lists can be a first step toward greater teamwork and productivity. I’ll have more to say about this theme in later posts.

Brandon Ferris, Senior Director of Strategic Services and Fundraising Counsel
Zuri Group


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