Maine Community Foundation (MaineCF) is a statewide community foundation with a staff of 38 and offices in Portland and Ellsworth, plus three remote offices in Maine and one in New York, NY. In 2019 we awarded 6,363 in grants and scholarships worth more than $40 million.
We all live in a world filled with technology, which can prove to be a help and hinderance to our work and personal lives. Furthermore, for those of us in the nonprofit world who rely on technology every day to do our jobs, the efficiencies gained by this technology can make a significant impact in the funds we deliver to improve social good.
Here are five ways I believe having the right technology and good data – no matter what platforms or software you use – makes our work lives less stressful, more productive, and happier at MaineCF.
- First and foremost is clean, standardized, and updated mailing information. Returned mail is a hassle. Not only does it result in lost contact with donors or prospects, but it is costly in staff time and resources. Using standardized formatting saves time in data entry and data mining. We use a data service on a regular basis to update addresses or to find deceased clients. These timely updates give staff confidence in our database and save the foundation time and money. Updates are also required by mass mailing houses.
- Training is a priority here at MaineCF, and no matter what software or platforms you are using for your constituent management, grantmaking, accounting, email and other secondary programs, it should be at your organization too. At MaineCF, new hires meet with all staff individually – either in person or by phone – to learn what each staff member does at the foundation and how what they do integrates with their new position. We as a staff also take advantage of outside trainings or conferences related to our current software platforms as well as new technology. I have been a presenter for our core software at a national conference a few times. Several other staff members routinely present or attend trainings related to the foundation and our technology. The Foundation recently took part in an IT security assessment that resulted in additional training for staff related to keeping access to our data and files safe. Continuation of training is very important as it keeps staff updated, keeps you relevant in your job, helps provide job satisfaction, and that makes happy employees.
New staff need to learn so much the first few weeks that information overload is a given
and can lead to frustration, both for the new hire as well as other staff. Having a training
program assures staff that new hires will be up to speed as quickly as possible, and have
resources at their fingertips to help manage the learning curve.
One format we use that has proved extremely helpful is our “Lunch and Learn” for
ongoing trainings related to grantmaking programs, software updates, our strategic goal
areas, database entry, communications, and general education.
- Keeping software platforms updated is essential. This fact won’t come as a surprise: Every time a software platform update happens, it causes frustration for staff. The update may fix some issues and create others but consider the consequences of not doing updates. Haven’t we all heard of data breaches at major companies due to not following through with security updates? Yes, change is tough and frustrating, but the updates in software or platforms can improve staff efficiencies, help keep your data safe from outside threats, and improve staff morale in the long run.
- Written procedures are a must for all processes in your organization. What is the cost of losing a staff person, either suddenly or by retirement, and thus their knowledge of your processes? Having step-by-step written procedures is not a threat to your job; it is an insurance policy for you and your foundation. As the database manager, I have written policies and procedures for all the processes relating to our gift entry, constituent management, prospect management, and other processes within my job function. Many of the procedures are given to staff upon hire as reference material and training tools for proper data entry. This helps keep the data clean, in a standardized format, reduces clean-up, and allows all staff ownership of the data.
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- Finally, the right technology at our organization allows us to attract great staff, volunteers and partners. Having the right technology, software and platforms improves productivity and efficiencies, and reduces staff turnover which, in turn, improves morale and makes for happy staff.
I’m happy to work for a foundation that embraces the right technology and good data. In my travels and in conversations with other community and independent & family foundations and nonprofits, I see and hear of struggles with data and with outdated or insufficient technology. I often say to my peers… “think how much more impact your work and your grants could have if you were operating more efficiently, with great data and great technology!”
I’m thrilled to share these five thoughts with you; and if your organization is by chance procrastinating data and technology improvements due to costs – and/or investing time in these changes – let me assure you that it will be worth it!