The 3 C’s of Nonprofit Database Administration

Brittany Ivey

Senior Consultant

Brittany works on projects including CRM software implementations, systems analysis, and business process documentation. She has experience working with several donor database systems, including a professional-level certification in Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge.
November 01, 2021

With the hustle of everyday tasks, it can be difficult to shift mentalities to look at database administration strategies and how they fit into your organization’s objectives. It is critical to periodically step back and evaluate your data and the tasks required to keep it in order. Sometimes the evaluation may happen naturally as part of a year-end review; other times, it may be forced as part of staff change or turnover.

Regardless of the cause for evaluation, there are three areas to evaluate; think of these as your organization’s “pillars” for minimizing bottlenecks, preventing interruptions to data management, and encouraging integration across functional teams:


The key to consistency in database administration is documentation of your organization’s policies and procedures. While many would like to believe that organizations will have plenty of forewarning before staff changes, in reality, these can happen swiftly and with little notice; documentation will ensure that the strategies continue to be executed through the standardization of data inputs and outputs.

Strong documentation will guide users on the organization’s use of their system(s). Documentation should NOT be written as a user guide for the system itself—rely on your system vendor for that! Documentation should be specific to your organization and why you use a field in a certain way, or the process for creating expected outputs.

Writing documentation does not have to be painful, but it does need to be intentional. You can crowdsource your documentation efforts across team members, giving them a voice to contribute to the ongoing efforts.


Have you ever exported data and been taken aback by the disarray of results? Database ownership often goes hand-in-hand with taking great pride in the quality of the outputs. Clean data often means less re-running of reports and more operational efficiencies.

Data cleanliness should be evaluated in regular intervals. For example, monthly and annual assessments are manageable and effective. Examples of items to look for:

  • Multiple codes being used for the same purpose
  • Fields not being used for their intended purpose
  • General data entry errors
  • Missing/incomplete fields

For the most impact, start with evaluation of your constituents and gifts. JCA recently helped a client with intentional data cleansing, and the final results by the numbers were staggering: by eliminating 143 duplicative relationship labels, over 2,400 incorrect labels were corrected and over 53,000 relationship records were impacted overall!


Taking care of your organization’s database is a collaborative effort that should be a priority not only for the database manager, but for the entire team.

Effective database administrators know that there are key stakeholders for every aspect of the system, and will include them in decision-making and overarching processes. Knowing what types of insightful questions to ask of these stakeholders will allow for more proactive planning and less hectic last-minute scrambling for reports. The database administrator should be included in planning for and execution of key campaigns and organizational initiatives, as they often oversee the data and reporting to support these programs.

In addition to knowing who should be included in data management, knowing who should not be included is of equal importance. Database managers should have their user permissions protected and “locked down,” so that the average user cannot create new code values or make changes to how fields are formatted without the database manager’s knowledge.

Bonus: Capacity

Even if your organization has established consistency via documentation, has created a culture embracing clean data, and is collaborating on a regular basis, unforeseen circumstances can pose a risk to the stability of the database. Organizations are often thrown askew by reduced staff capacity, whether it is related to the individual (illness, parental leave, etc.) or the organization as a whole (staff turnover, competing priorities, campaign kick-offs, large events, etc.). In these situations, JCA’s interim staffing capabilities can serve as a stopgap and ensure no disruptions to your organization’s objectives.

Has your team been impacted by reduced staff capacities? We can help! Our consultants have experience working in nonprofits and can seamlessly support your team. From database administration to project management—we provide the people, skills, and experience so you don’t lose momentum.

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