10/17/2018

11 Steps to Membership Management Success - Planning Your Database I

Staff sitting around a table deciding on database
Planning your membership database helps you pull together your data to create one source of the truth about your contacts and members.

Step 1

Now that you’ve gotten set up and familiar with Wild Apricot in Step 0, you’re ready to start planning how you’ll set up and manage your membership database.

In these next three articles in this series, you will complete Step 1, which will help you:

  • understand how and where your information about contacts and members is organized
  • understand membership bundles and when they can be used
  • make decisions about archiving and cleaning up your data

Your database plan will help you create your master import file, which will contain all the information you will be adding or migrating into your membership management system. The database plan and related considerations are key to the process of defining your database and help work toward full membership management system implementation.

We’ve broken Step 1 into three parts, to give you time to think through and carry out this critical first step in the process.

Let’s start by understanding what your organization’s data looks like now. 

What’s the current state of your organization’s database?

From the wide range of organizations we’ve worked with at NewPath Consulting, we have found a small to medium-sized organization’s data is usually “organic” in nature. That’s a nice way of saying it has evolved and passed through many hands. It is also possibly quite disorganized, potentially lacking important pieces of information. In short, it’s probably useful for people—but not for computers.

So answering the question about what your database looks like now involves doing some digging and housekeeping.

  • Do you know where all of your data about members and contacts resides? Can you easily collect, understand and use this information?
  • Do you already have your data stored in a database system, or is it spread across multiple systems or storage methods?

Sometimes when volunteers manage a database, they make it useful for themselves, but not easily accessible for your members or your systems. When volunteers change, the integrity and accuracy of your database may suffer.

If you do use a system, is it:

  • a spreadsheet?
  • a commercial or open source database like CiviCRM or Salesforce.com?
  • one or more custom, legacy databases?

Even if your contact management system comprises a drawer full business cards and sticky notes, the starting point is the same – establishing what you have now, and deciding which fields you’ll want to use in your new set-up. You will also need to establish the “business rules” around certain fields in terms of what is allowed in those fields.

If your information is coming from different places or systems, you want to anticipate the issues that might arise with exporting or manipulating the data. Knowing what you want to keep, what each field means and what data needs to change to conform to Wild Apricot will help you manage this process more seamlessly.

Think of it as paving a smooth and manageable path to creating one "source of the truth" where everyone – your contacts and members, your stakeholders, your staff and volunteers – will be fully and accurately described.

Do you know how to export data from your current systems, if necessary? If not, do you have the documentation or access to the people who can help get access to your data?

NewPath Consulting can help with this part of the process. We have experience with all sorts of complicated and “messy” systems.

The steps and estimates in this series are based on our experience migrating diverse customer groups to Wild Apricot. We believe these steps have an intrinsic order, so it’s important that you follow the steps in the order we’ve described in this series. If you can’t finish one before we publish the next, you can always come back to it when ready.

Watch for the next chapter in this series, in which you’ll start the second step in preparing your data for migration to the Wild Apricot platform: Step 2 – Managing Membership Bundles.


Do you have questions about Wild Apricot or managing your member and contact database? Contact NewPath Consulting for a free consultation.

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