Give your database a workout!

2015 Database Fitness for Your Church

Longterm Planning for Lifelong Data Health (Part 2 of 2)

If your goal is to get fit and stay in shape throughout the year, just buying a gym membership and showing up a couple times in January won’t do the trick. Permanent fitness requires longterm goals—like developing effective workout routines, scheduling which days of the week you’ll go to the gym, and finding someone to keep you accountable for reaching your specific goals. Keeping your church database fit and trim longterm requires similar strategy and dedication.

Last month, we shared some tips on how to clean up data and engage members to improve database accuracy. Of course, it’s important to go through the database periodically, rigorously taking inventory and making a special effort to revitalize data. But consistently implementing and following best practices throughout the year is also crucial to maintaining a healthy database.

If you haven’t already put these into practice, here are just a few strategies you may want to implement (or re-implement) at your church to keep the church database in good health:

Create Data Entry Standards

Any organization with an active database should have a set of data entry standards. If your church doesn’t have one, set up a meeting with your primary database users and create a document of guidelines. If you already have a set of standards, perhaps revisit it to make sure that the guidelines are adequate and being followed.

Wondering why you need these rules? Abiding by a set of data entry standards should improve data accuracy and reduce the risk of duplicate entries. For example, if you have a rule that members are always entered with their proper first name, you won’t end up with a “James Smith” and a “Jimmy Smith.” You’ll also need standards for entering addresses, abbreviations, titles, punctuation, and the like. For example, you’ll have to decide if title abbreviations should be entered with periods (Dr., Mr., Mrs.,) or without (Dr, Mr, Mrs). Having consistency in these details should help you when sorting, filtering, searching, and, in general, navigating the database.

Your internal documentation also gives you a place to spell out guidelines for fields that require staff to make an on-the-spot decision, like member statuses, custom fields, or special uses of standard fields your church has implemented.

Train for the Job

Appropriate staff training goes hand in hand with having great data entry standards. Before you allow staff members to access the database, you’ll want to cover two important training checkpoints:

Be sure to cover expected follow-up when information arrives at a staff member’s desk in an incomplete form. For example if a new family joins your church but hasn’t provided member email addresses and birth dates, pick up the phone and ask for the information you need. When your church is able to use that information to care for those people and keep in touch, you’ll be glad you took the time.

Remember, implementing data entry training should empower your staff. The training should answer seemingly “silly” questions about formalities and punctuation markers, clear up confusions, and testify to the importance of having accurate, consistent data.

Implement a Yearly Refresher Course

If you have staff members who’ve been doing your data entry for years, it may seem a little awkward to start up a yearly refresher course on data entry, but if you spin it the right way, it could really benefit the team (and the database!). Even senior staff forget things or develop bad habits, so the refresher course (probably just a 1- to 2-hour long seminar) is for them just as much as it is for the new staff.

Tell staff that the purpose of the course is to fine-tune your best practices for data management . . . to ensure that everyone is on the same page and provide an opportunity to voice any questions or concerns with the current rules and practices. Set the expectation that you'll all be learning from each other. You're likely to discover that some rules that once made sense no longer do and should be updated. A scheduled refresher course gives you a forum in which to bring these issues to light, keep staff involved and informed, and make changes with valuable input from the whole team.

Elect a Database Owner

If you already know who this person is, great! If not, you’ll want to select a staff member to be the point person when it comes to the church database. This staff member should be able to answer questions about the database, data standards, and have the final say on all database-related issues. Having someone elected to make these calls, along with a great set of data entry standards and appropriate job training punctuated with timely refresher courses, should help keep the church database in great shape longterm!

We’re wishing you the best with your database this year! Here’s to keeping your data in shape for the whole of 2015 and beyond!

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