Don’t get me wrong, I love excel as much as the next gal, and it can be a powerful tool in viewing and organizing data.  But it’s not meant to STORE donor data for non-profit organizations.  And it seems every organization I walk into has a secret (or maybe not so secret) excel file that has column after column and row after row of data that isn’t anywhere else.  It’s people who really love them – or really don’t love them.  It’s donors who have a different winter address.  It’s donations for a golf outing.  It’s committee members for the gala.  And it needs to stop.

Every non-profit organization should have a donor database, and in that, all your donor related data should be stored.  And I mean every non-profit, and I mean all your data.  And I’ve heard every excuse there is.  Generally it’s just that the user doesn’t know how to best store and retrieve the data, so they don’t even try.  Or may they did try, but had a mess after making some erroneous decisions and gave up.  But the bottom line is – figure out how to do it.  If you have Raiser’s Edge or Giftworks, it’s really easy to get a system in place for all your data.  And even if you have another system, there must be a way.  And if there truly isn’t a way – then get a new database.

Now, don’t stop using excel all together.  Once you store the data in your database, you might want to export it to excel, re-sort it or re-format it a bit, and then print it or email it from there.  But when it’s time to make a change or correction, go back to the database, change the data there, and then re-export the list.

It might seem like an inefficient use of time, but believe me, there is nothing more inefficient than having data in excel spreadsheets.  Especially when you have all your event data in a spreadsheet and then a committee member asks if a certain prospect has ever given to the agency’s annual fund.  Or whether that prospect attended an event in the last five years.  Or whether that prospect has ever been on the Board of Directors.  Uh oh, none of that data is in with your event data in your spreadsheet, so now you’re having to hand look-up a bunch of information, and that’s what I call inefficient.

So, if you’re one of those secret excel users (and I know you’re out there), don’t despair, there is hope.  Spend an hour or two, either experimenting on your own or with the help of a data guru (like me!), and you will not regret it.  You can get to a place where all your data is in your database.  What a novel idea.