Excel is not a database

Before I founded Cloud for Good I worked for a small nonprofit organization that loved to collect information. When I joined the organization, as a director of resource development, I inherited the organization’s most kept treasure. An Excel spreadsheet with all the donors and foundations we contacted in the past six or seven years, their social interests, who contacted them, when, how much money we asked, how much we received etc… This was (by far!) the largest spreadsheet I have ever seen in my life.

Overall, it seems like spreadsheets can be ideal for manage the organization’s knowledge. The Microsoft Office package is installed on most computers. Additionally, it is a very simple to use tool that we are all familiar with – we can easily create new columns and save. However, do not be tempted.  Excel is not a tool to manage and cultivate relationships!

 Excel is great with numbers but it is very limited. As a resource developer I could not efficiently track year to year donations or identify that one of our graduates could have been a potential donor. It was a great tool to analyze quantitative information, but it did not enable me to manage relationships between the information I tracked – it is “flat”.

  • Yes, you can add more columns to manage the information; however, how many columns will you need to track all the phone calls, emails, and meetings with your donor, volunteer, or student? Not to mention tracking all their donations, preferred days and time to volunteer, and program attendance. This is important information – if you wish to form a relationship with the constituent (or the foundation).
  • When your organization collects all the information (just like in my previous organization) the spreadsheet could include thousands of values and become very difficult to manage.
  • Your spreadsheet will not support your business process nor will it include workflows and automatic reminders. For example: Excel will not remind you to send a thank you letter every time you receive a donation.
  • Reporting in Excel can be very challenging. How would you know who gave last year but not this year and attended one of your programs’ graduation ceremonies?
  • And what about security? Everyone who has access to the spreadsheet can make changes and delete anything. You cannot determine who can see all of the information and who can edit specific columns.

 

Your database is one of the most valuable assets for your organization.  A good database is necessary to help you grow and provide better services to the community. It should support the organization’s mission and should be adopted by your entire organization and not only one team. It should be easy to use (you don’t want a system that only one person within your organization can use), flexible (it should evolve with your strategy) and it should support the type of work you do.

This is a new tradition I started last month when I shared with you my best readings from the web. This month’s round-up includes social networks updates, tips, tricks, details on creating your organization’s Google Search Story, advice on online project management tools, and updates from Google Apps. I hope this will help your organization keep up with this month’s cloud discussions!

  1. In light of the recent discussions about Facebook’s privacy issue I loved South Park’s last episode and the battle between Stan and his Facebook profile, who won? I am not sure.
  2. Single? Maybe it is because you don’t own an iPhone 🙂  a recent survey has found that men who own an iPhone are more attractive than those who do not.
  3. The search for a good online project management tool is on! Judi Sohn wrote an excellent post about C3’s needs and desires that ignited a great discussion. There is also a similar thread running in Techsoup’s community.
  4. But this is not the only search out there… do you remember Google’s Super Bowl Ad? We created a similar search story for Cloud for Good; check it out and share with your friends. You can create a similar video for your organization at www.youtube.com/searchstories.
  5. Google released many new features and enhancements this month. There were major updates added to Google Docs including the ability to insert calendar invitations. Additionally, I blogged about Gmail’s drag and drop attachments and about the dot-less user name.
  6. New to Twitter? I enjoyed watching Alyssa Milano Teaching Jimmy Kimmel How to Use Twitter. Also, here are 10 Dos and Don’ts for Brands on Twitter and 12 Tips to Engage People on Twitter.
  7. Good suggestions on how to create a technology succession plan, from Idealware.
  8. The Blog Raiser suggests your organization should create an imaginary donor friend.
  9. If you have friends you should listen, I found these good notes from NTC about listening (Amy Sample Ward’s Version of NPTech).
  10. Last but not least, while reading the Google Grants Blog, I was very humbled and excited to read their recommendation of my own Cloud for Good on Facebook in their Resource Round Up for April. I would like to extend this invitation to you all!