Inheriting Confusion in Fundraising: Strategies to Cope with Database Cleanup

August 28, 2017 Pamela Barden

This blog post originally appeared in npENGAGE.

It’s probably happened to anyone who has changed jobs in fundraising a few times – you inherit files that are less than helpful. The details of a deferred gift aren’t complete, who to contact regarding a fundraising agreement are vague, details of donor meetings are sketchy, or any other number of things that can slow you down.

I’ve recently been dealing with “inherited” files, and occasionally it has felt overwhelming. Working with someone else’s filing system – paper or electronic – is frustrating when you’re eager to get to work but first have to figure out what’s what. It also can be embarrassing if you contact the wrong person or ask a question that isn’t appropriate to the situation.

Here are some of the coping strategies I’ve used during a database cleanup:

  1. Don’t purge files too soon, but go through them and put the contents in date order and dispose of any obvious duplicates (if needed). Investing the time to sort and scan the paper trail helps affix at least a broad scope of information in your mind.
  2. As you review files and identify contacts, put a list of names, emails and numbers in the front. If you’re new and you can’t figure out who is the right contact, don’t be embarrassed. Just make a call and start asking. (I recently did this and started out the call by saying, “I know I sound clueless, but…” The end result? A receptionist who was laughing and went out of the way to help me.
  3. As you sort files or review invoices, make a list of every person or organization with whom it appears you have a contract or agreement. Include what services are provided, when the contract expires (or cancellation terms if it is open-ended), terms and cost, and who the main contact is. If you find that there are contractors that have no written agreements, make it a priority to get that resolved. This can often be a cost-savings as there may be lower costs available due to revised services being offered or economies of scale. It never hurt to ask.
  4. Keep a running list of what you need to do in terms of bigger things like writing policies or procedures or revamping a program. While something might not be a high priority, writing it down or adding it to an electronic list lets you deal with it when you can, and keeps it percolating in your mind. You may stumble on a solution in an unlikely place or when you are not looking specifically for it.
  5. Celebrate your wins. Going through 100 files and sorting them so you can find what you need when you need it may not seem like a bragging-worthy event, but taking time to “pat yourself on the back,” however you do that (I find a latte helps), can keep you from growing discouraged when you’re facing the next situation and thinking, “If only I knew the background…”

“Organization” can seem like a waste of time until you’re wasting time due to a lack of organization. But taking time to make the inherited files work for you will likely accelerate your success in fundraising.


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