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Enough Answers; Are You Asking the Right Questions?

The best consultants don’t just supply answers, they ask the right questions. Here are 10 questions every organization needs to consider about how they manage data:

  1. How do you measure success? What does success look like at your organization? Is it more members? Is it better attendance at your events? Is it higher donations? You have to determine what success looks like in order to measure it and to know if you’re being successful.
  2. Are you measuring what works and what doesn’t? Every day you’re doing lots of things. Have you stopped to measure whether what you’re doing is working, and whether or not it contributes to the greater good of the organization?
  3. How can you use the data you have to advance your mission? What data do you have, and how does it relate to your mission? Can you improve communications, marketing, or other areas with your data?
  4. Are you collecting data you don’t use? Every organization I’ve ever worked with had data that they were collecting but not using. For example, do you collect “highest degree earned” information about your membership? If so, how do you use that data? If it’s just “interesting” data (meaning it’s not actually used for anything) then it’s probably not worth collecting.
  5. Does staff understand why they do the things they do? Too often you hire new staff, train them how to do their job (I hope!) and then send them on their way. But how often do you connect what they do with why they do it? Does every one of your staff members understand how his or her work advances the organization’s mission?
  6. Does senior staff know what kind of data you have? The larger your organization is, the more likely that your senior staff has no idea what kind of data is being collected about your members and customers. But even small organizations have this problem. Hold mini “training” sessions to educate your senior staff on what types of data the database(s) contain and how that data is being used.
  7. Is the technology helping you or slowing you down? Whether you’re using an enterprise-wide association management system, or a collection of Excel spreadsheets, is the technology you’re using making you more efficient and effective, or less so? Maybe you need to be “less automated” in order to be more effective. Technology is great, but using technology because you can isn’t reason enough.
  8. Are your business processes as simple as they can be? Business processes accrue over time, building up like stalagmites in a cave. As technology and staff come and go, business processes change, but not always for the better. Take some time to review all of your key data management processes and make sure you’re not doing things just because they’ve always been done that way.
  9. Are you managing to the rule or the exception? Providing exceptions, especially to members, is what associations do best. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t build your business rules around the exception (e.g., twice per year a board member asks for a discount on annual meeting registration). Build your rules (and your software automation) around what happens most commonly, and save the exceptions for staff to manage manually.
  10. Are you measuring engagement? Your data can tell you lots of things about your members and customers. One thing it can tell you is how engaged with your organization a given individual or organization is. Do you know, from the data, what your engagement looks like? Or are you still operating from your gut?

Making a concerted effort to answer these questions can go a long way toward improving data management within your organization, and making it more effective and mission-focused.

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