Confessions of a Raiser’s Edge Geek

I have a confession to make. I am a Raiser’s Edge (RE) geek. Those who know me say they could always see it, but it took me some time to accept.  I now embrace my inner geek. The one place in the world where an RE geek feels fully accepted is at the Blackbaud Conference for Nonprofits (bbcon). This year was no exception as we descended on Washington DC from September 29th through October 1st to discuss, debate, and dissect the many ways to manage, migrate, and manipulate development and fundraising data.

Whenever thousands of self-identified RE geeks congregate, disagreements abound regarding the best way to accomplish “this” or the quickest way to produce “that”. This leads me to my next confession.  RE geeks don’t always see eye to eye.  For the past 2 years I’ve been fortunate enough to present at bbcon with 4 other geeks (Bill Connors, Melissa S. Graves, Kirk Schmidt, and David Zeidman). In 2012 we debated the value of query lists and argued the best way to handle spouses and partners in RE in our session Be It Resolved That Raiser’s Edge Geeks Do Not Always Agree. This year we continued the fight with Raiser’s Edge Geek Forum 2: The Revenge!  Out of these bbcon data knock-down, drag-out fights, as well as numerous other spirited RE exchanges, I noticed certain undeniable similarities in perceived challenges begin to crop up.  Self-imposed, intimidation-based thought patterns began to emerge which leads me to my next series of confessions.

Confession: All CRMs, regardless of the creator, are built upon the same foundation. They are created on the backs of records, tabs, and fields.  An easy to use intuitive user interface is, however, quite a complex undertaking to say the least.  Don’t let the bells & whistles of the user interface intimidate you. Focus on the relational nature of records, tabs, and fields and your way will be clear. Viewed within this context, the similarities from system to system vastly outweigh the differences.

Confession:  If you don’t need it, don’t use it.  Just because a field exists in your database, it doesn’t mean you have to use it.  However, be mindful of the changes that are created in outputs as a result of not using or renaming fields in your database.

Confession:  Our missions are our reason for being.  RE and other CRMs should tell the story of how you fund your mission from both a quantitative (numbers) as well as qualitative (narrative) perspective. Your system should help you organize your work and communicate about your efforts more efficiently. A database should not be a hurdle or a hindrance. If it is, rethink your methods and simplify your process.

Confession:  Successful CRM administrators and users have learned to keep things simple yet creative. Remember your data is just that – YOUR DATA.  Decide what you want to see in your reports and other outputs and then enter the data you need in order to produce those reports and outputs with confidence.  See, simple. This involves a good bit of discussion ABOUT the system OUTSIDE the system, so put the time in to think, discuss, and then work in the system.

Confession:  Anyone can master RE (or any CRM for that matter) and become a data geek, an RE geek, or a geekier geek as the case may be.  Consistent practice and repetition are the keys to growth.  Challenge yourself by taking on one new database function each day.  Practice in small steady bites within a functional area where you feel you need to strengthen your skills.  However, don’t be afraid to jump right in either.  The times I grew the most were the times when a boss threw me a curveball and needed something “yesterday”.  Be thankful for the curveballs, they help you hit in a different direction and make you a much stronger reliable hitter.

These confessions, born of observations on my annual bbcon trip and years of working with development teams, will hopefully help you embrace or at least acknowledge your inner data geek.  There is strength in numbers – pun intended.  I’ll leave you with one last confession.  No one has ever regretted having taken more training.

bbcon 2014 will be held in my neck of the woods next year – October 6th  through 8th  at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.  I hope to see you there. Until then you can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, or like Generate on Facebook.  You can also visit my little corner of the world at readysetgenerate.com.

A proud RE Geek, Ed Hohlbein serves as the Data Management Consultant with Alexander Haas and is the founder of Generate, Inc. a boutique consulting firm that offers high-touch coaching and consulting on The Raiser’s Edge and other select Blackbaud products as well as alternative donor management systems.  Connect with Ed on LinkedIn, follow him on Twitter, or like Generate on Facebook.