Jul 02 2015

5 Ways Nonprofit Database Administrators Can Make Their Lives Easier

Database administrators can improve communication with staff — and avoid unnecessary headaches — by providing database training, request forms and clear policies.

Charged with everything from managing volunteer information to recording donor gifts, database administrators play vital roles in the nonprofit sector. But one major obstacle often inhibits their work: Most staff members just don’t speak tech.

In a post on NTEN Connect Blog — one of BizTech's 25 Must-Read Nonprofit IT Blogs — database analyst and former database administrator Jim Willsey says bridging the technology language barrier takes effort on both sides.

Nonprofit staff members, for instance, should be cognizant of database administrators’ time by planning out data requests in detail and submitting them well in advance.

Database administrators, on the other hand, should take the following five steps to improve relationships with their colleagues, safeguard data integrity and avoid problems caused by miscommunication:

1. Control who enters data and how it’s recorded

Database administrators know that consistency is essential to database integrity, but not everyone on staff will understand why or how certain fields are used.

Setting and articulating clear policies and procedures helps ensure data is standardized, no matter who records it. And utilizing user roles and security measures gives database administrators even more control over who manages what.

2. Provide a data request form

Upon receiving a completed data report, nonprofit staff members often ask database administrators to modify report criteria to better meet their needs. They don’t realize the effort that goes into that task.

By designing a data request form that walks staff members through the whole process and lets them visualize the results of their requests, database administrators can help ensure their reports meet staff members’ expectations from the start.

3. Think things through before shutting down a request

Nonprofit staff members don’t dedicate their time to understanding database intricacies or jargon, which means database administrators have to be careful when responding to requests that seem impossible.

Before saying something can’t be done, database administrators should take time to consider creative workarounds for the issue. They should also explain the problem clearly so staff can help find a solution.

4. Provide adequate training

When stopgaps are put in place, it can be difficult for database administrators to explain their process to others, making it tempting to hoard work rather than share knowledge.

Instead of handling all database tasks on their own, database administrators should train staff members on functions that they’ll need to perform regularly.

5. Don’t separate the process from the big picture

It may seem counterintuitive, but following the specifics of a data request form will not always lead to the most useful data. Before accepting a request, database administrators should learn their colleague’s objective for the data report so they can modify criteria to best meet that aim.

Willsey says that last piece of advice extends beyond database administrators’ everyday tasks to their work at large.

“Your highest priority that informs everything else should be to serve the mission of your organization,” he says, and that can only happen when everyone is on the same page.


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