Guest Blog by Devendra Shrikhande. Devandra is a Consultant for Arts and Cultural organizations at Blackbaud and has spent the last 4 years helping nonprofits become more efficient in their operations. Prior to Blackbaud, Devendra spent over 10 years in the nonprofit industry.

               

One of the most effective ways organizations can further their mission is to increase efficiency in their daily operations. We are all tight on resources and time is probably the most precious of all.

So, I’ve put together  9 simple tips on how your team can save time and add increased value to your daily efforts.

1. Use an Integrated Database.

One mantra we hear often is that our audience views us  as one entity.  They are oblivious to the different departments and silos we may have, so maybe it’s time we return the favor and view our constituent through a single lens.

An integrated database can help to do just that.

It can save your team valuable time as you will not have to convert data from one database to another.  In an integrated system, each team has the information they need at their fingertips and don’t have to rely on receiving information from other offices to do their jobs .

2. Leverage the Web Channel for Transaction.

Why not release your staff of some of the transactional tasks such as selling tickets or entering donations and memberships?  If your database has a web component for receiving donations and selling tickets and memberships, start directing your audience to those tools through email links and steady reminders.

The savings are obvious: It opens up staff time as they do not have to follow up on phone messages or answer phones to complete basic transactions. The same can be said for reducing the mail volume and the time spent in processing it.

3. Maintain a Timely Schedule for Data Maintenance.

Waiting until the weekend before the drop of your massive Spring mailing is not the right time to review the data on your mailing list. An integrated database can be rendered useless if the data is not accurate.

Set up a regular schedule to check for duplicates and ensure data (constituent titles, address information) is accurate.  Data maintenance only grows in importance if part of the data is being sourced through the Web. There is always the possibility a donor may not follow the same protocol for entering their mailing address as you would. If conducted regularly, the time spent in data review can progressively shrink.

Having as clean a database as possible can not only save operational time as your teams  prepare mailings, but can also add efficiency in making planning decisions through cleaner data.

4. Set up Policies and Guidelines for Data Entry.

One of the easiest ways to save time with data maintenance is to ensure that data is as accurate as possible at the time of entry!  For example, if you use titles in your addressee or salutations, confirm that titles are required fields for your Web forms. This way any donors or patron records sourced through the Web automatically have these entries.  If your front desk is accepting donations and memberships, make sure they have the training and guidelines to enter data accurately.

A key component of a successful policy is that it should be practical. For example,  things at the front desk can get busy, so make sure that ticket sellers focus on capturing key information.

The advantage of having actionable guidelines is that they reduce time spent on unnecessary data updates and reduce the potential follow up tasks of contacting your visitors to confirm information.

5. Staff Training.

Having an effective software training program is a critical step in saving time. If folks are comfortable using your software, it reduces errors and any follow up time fixing them. Additionally, a trained staff will be on board with helping you collect the data your organization needs to make decisions.

Make clean data a collective responsibility and ensure that software training is included in the onboarding process. Building good habits from the start will maximize your investment in the software and also help save staff time..

Set up quizzes to help staff self-evaluate their skill set.  At the end of the quiz you can also list the training resources (typically free and typically online) available to help the team member brush up their skill set.

6. Training Part Deux – Updates!  

Software does not stand still – and neither should your team’s skill sets and how they use it. Make sure your team members keep up with software updates.

One can lose a lot of time if they are not familiar with updates to the system and not using it to its fullest capacity. So, set up an internal communication process to alert them in advance of the upcoming software updates and provide them with the resources (once again, usually free and online in a  self-study format).

7. Leverage the Software Functionality.

Almost all software has gems that can shave precious seconds off mundane tasks.

If your software offers “Finder Numbers”, make sure you include them in the return materials you send in your appeal. Finder numbers can then help your team pre-populate the respondents’ information as they enter data.

  • Bar codes on member cards can save time identifying members at the front desk.
  • Auto-formatting dates and phone numbers can also help speed up data entry.
  • Software applications are providing increasing opportunities to customize their interface. Take full advantage of that to save time accessing tools used regularly.
  • Almost all software also has some type of short cuts (usually keyboard variety) to save time in data entry.

Create a cheat sheet and include it in your training materials so they become a habit for your team.

Batch processes can seem daunting, but they can literally save time in bulk! The best time to help staff become familiar with batch processing is paradoxically, when data entry is slow as time pressure is less and much easier to review.  After practicing batch entry with a small number of records your team will quickly feel comfortable tackling larger volume of data and save them time exponentially.

8. Leverage the Web Browser Platform.

As more and more software applications shift to the Web, it’s very easy to overlook the advantage this platform affords. It is more than just the ability to work from home!

My favorite tools are setting up the log in page as either a favorite/bookmark or even the home page.  Do also take advantage of the multiple tab functionality in browsers. This can save your team tons of time as it allows you to jump from one area of the database to another and very easily compare data: a crucial time saver when maintaining your database.

And don’t forget, a web browser platform also means access via mobile devices. Leverage mobile technology to process tickets and work on the go.

9. Be Adaptable.

It is very easy to fall into routines and do things because “that is how they have always been done”.  Encourage team members to challenge the status quo by asking questions and suggesting new options. Each one is an expert in their space and can offer insight.  Different teams bring different perspectives,  and evaluating your operations can be a key component in helping you find areas of time savings.

I am sure you also have some great suggestions on ways to save time – so I look forward to the tips all of you send in!

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 photo courtesy of Flickr

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