Managing Up for Better Data

Guest Blog Post by Bethany Lang

As a data consultant for a constituent relationship management (CRM) system for nonprofits and former nonprofit fundraiser, I’ve found that there is one thing that the vast majority of nonprofit databases have in common: they have been rendered unusable or difficult to use by bad data.

Bad data has very real and frustrating consequences. It can hold you back from raising more money to meet your mission because you can’t get simple reports, or make it impossible to get critical information on prospective donors or members. These problems may seem silly, but in the bigger picture, they can be just as much of a roadblock as any of the other challenges that nonprofits face.In many cases, there is someone on staff – like you! – who knows that the data is a problem, but their management is not invested in fixing it. So how do manage up to convince your boss that database cleanup and maintenance is a critical part of your job and your mission?

1. State Your Case

Managing up, first and foremost, is about understanding your boss so that you can tailor your pitch, in the words of the Harvard Business Review. What, if anything, drives your boss crazy about your database? Do they want reports that they can’t get? Are they annoyed by inconsistent capitalization or naming conventions? Is there information that’s in their head but not in the system?To get their buy-in, bring concrete examples of how these things are keeping you from achieving bigger picture goals, like segmenting fundraising appeals or doing more complex data analysis. Be thoughtful about when to bring this plan to your manager, though; you probably shouldn’t bring this project up two weeks before your biggest fundraising event of the year.

2. Bring A Plan

Now that you have buy-in on the problem, you need solutions. These solutions need to be specific and realistic, and take your manager’s unique wants, needs, and capacity into account. Your plan should also contain SMART goals: goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.Here are some examples of SMART goals for your data cleanup plan:

  • Hire an intern to complete basic name and address cleanup on 50% of database accounts by the end of the summer
  • Be able to run an accurate board give and get report in time for the new fiscal year
  • Review a report of top 100 donors with the CEO and other relevant staff and make account adjustments and additions by the end of the fiscal year

3. Follow Through and Keep Your Boss Informed

Once a plan is in place, it’s imperative that you make sure that your boss not only stays updated on your progress, but also can see the progress being made. For example, if they were frustrated with incorrect reports, get them an updated report and verify that it has been fixed. Be sure to ask for feedback on how the project is going so that you can make adjustments as needed.Data may not be sexy, and may not ever be your first priority, but it is important. Managing up will help your boss understand why accurate data is crucial and support your plan for addressing data issues. Happy cleaning!


Bethany Lang is the Manager of Training & Implementation at Z2 Systems, makers of the NeonCRM, a cloud-based database for nonprofit organizations. In her current role, she helps Neon clients transition their data and processes from their previous databases and donation, membership, and event systems.Prior to joining Z2, Bethany was a grant writer and database administrator for several nonprofits in Chicago, including Christopher House and Chicago Children’s Museum. She holds a BFA in Theatre Management from DePaul University and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

One thought on “Managing Up for Better Data

  1. Kay
    May 12, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Databases are the lifeblood of nonprofits.