How Can Nonprofit Data Admins Best Serve Their Orgs?

Everyone’s in rapid response mode right now.

Nonprofits are scrambling to keep their programs running. On a personal level, many of us are bracing for what’s to come with this pandemic. So it’s really no surprise that the org database is the last thing on anyone’s mind…except for us.

By “us”, I mean anyone who leads on data or systems thinking for a nonprofit: database coordinators, Salesforce admins, accidental admins, data managers, and the lot.

To be fair, orgs didn’t always appreciate the importance of this work pre-crisis. It’s often more technical than people care to understand, not to mention expensive. On a good day, what we do is a complex means towards some vague end.

But as we all know, these are not good days. So if you’re seeing a lull in data requests, or you’ve had major projects put on hold, it’s concerning. Some of us are questioning our job security because of it. And it can feel isolating to watch our staff race to address the fallout without us. .

But whether it’s obvious or not, there is a role for us to play. We may not be on the front lines, but we can still serve our orgs in important, relevant ways throughout this crisis.

Before we continue, one important disclaimer.

At the beginning of this crisis, my problem-solver ego (let’s call her Tina) immediately kicked in. I was safely working at home, eager to do my part to solve the crisis for my nonprofit.

Then, we learned that the coronavirus wasn’t going away. Ever since, Tina’s been drained. And I’m sure many of you feel the same – especially those of us caring for children or elders while we work, or those who have loved ones battling their own infections (*raises hand*). This article sums it up perfectly: this is truly a time of grief for all of us.

Which brings me to my main point. In no way is this post meant to be a rallying cry to admins that we need to work more or work harder. We’ve got a lot going on right now. The world has a lot going on right now.

But it’s true that many of us find meaning, or at least significant distraction, in work. So this post is really for those who feel funny, as I do, about how their work is or isn’t coming together in this new normal.

The perspective I want to offer is this: we can’t fix what’s going on in the world, or in our orgs. We can’t write the future, or force anyone’s hand. We can still find ways to lend our roles to this effort and stay connected. It may just require us to:

  • Be more flexible than we were in the past
  • Get a firmer pulse on what’s going on in our orgs
  • Be more proactive in proposing ways to support
  • And to some extent, being patient

Ok. List time.

6 Ways Nonprofit Data Peeps Can Serve Their Orgs During the Pandemic

My ever-motivating screensaver. Dab, little unicorn.

1. Marketing Operations

If there were ever a time for orgs to be in regular contact with constituents, it’s now. And we can help: whether it’s building and optimizing those lists, proposing segments based on data available in the system, or assisting marketing with their engagement analysis and personalizations. How we connect with people right now matters.

If your org doesn’t have a marketing function, maybe you can do some research and share best practices. Again, it’s all about flexibility.

p.s. There isn’t much written about marketing ops for nonprofits, despite the fact that so many of us are doing it. 🤦🏽‍♀️ So if you’re not familiar with the term, here’s a helpful sector-agnostic explanation.

2. System Optimization

We all have that laundry list of tasks/projects that never gets tackled because those items never take priority. Well if work is slowing down, this may be our moment.

For me, that’s a mix of data cleanup and streamlining. But it’s also making sure that the staff relying on our database and email marketing platforms are using those platforms to the best of their ability. Whatever we can do to make staff’s tech lives easier right now, the better.

3. Pipeline Reports

So many orgs are taking some big hits when it comes to revenue. We can begin to prepare by revisiting those early forecasts and making adjustments.

Obviously, we won’t know how bad things are till we’re there. The projections will be demoralizing, and feel impossible. But for orgs in planning mode (re-evaluating grant applications, converting fundraisers to virtual events, cutting back on appeals, etc…) we need some sort of target to help focus any future development efforts. It’s also possible that your org applies for COVID grants soon, which you’ll want to include in a more realistic pipeline.

p.s. I’m sure there are more COVID grants out there, but the Candid resource page may be a good place for your devo team to start searching.

4. Cost-savings

This sector is in a battle to keep the lights on. And as the gatekeeper for Salesforce or any of your org’s fancy systems, you may be required to find some cost savings. Get in touch with your account reps and see what they’re offering nonprofits as far as billing and grace periods (if you need them). And if there are any funds to be spared by doing some storage cleanup, or identifying free offerings to leverage your current platforms, go for it.

It’s amazing what us nonprofit peeps can finagle when we need a free thing.

5. Data Analysis.

Seek to understand the impact of this chaos across all your org’s functions. Fundraising and pipeline report analysis is one critical area. But understanding the toll on your org’s programs can open up important conversations around if and how to sustain certain offerings. It may even push your org to adopt procedures that expand your current constituent base, or help you deepen your existing relationships.

p.s. For any orgs relying on coronavirus data, or for any curious data nerds, Salesforce/Tableau has a global COVID data hub. You can check that out here.

6. Documentation.

Documentation is usually at the end of our to-do list, because normally, other things take priority. But as long as work has slowed during the pandemic, this is a great time to work on that internal or end-user documentation for your CRM, email marketing platform, etc….

To wrap this up…we are people first.

A lot of us are scared. We can only do our best right now. Keep that in mind as you bring ideas to your org, deal with your fellow anxious colleagues, struggle to find your work-from-home groove, or as you sit in your own feelings.

And above all, let’s seriously do our best to stay connected with each other.

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