Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Upgrading Your Church or Donor Database

Having consulted for churches and ministries for two decades, I've noticed that many churches and ministries change their database for the wrong reasons. Among the top wrong reasons I've seen:

  • The system is slow. Often this is because the computer(s) it runs on has aged significantly. These are often older systems that have not been kept current with patches and may be loaded down with adware, spyware, etc. The database change will require new hardware, so the new system will be faster! (Guaranteed success!)

  • XYZ church or ministry uses another system, so we should use that one too. The assumptions are that their team is better at identifying their needs, and that they have done an excellent job in researching the best database to meet their needs. (These assumptions are often not true.) And, if your ministry is in any way different than theirs, the solution they chose may not be the best one for you!

  • Changing databases for either of those two reasons usually means money will not have been well spent. Some of the right reasons to change are:

  • The database no longer meets our needs. Your ministry has grown in some directions the database provider never anticipated, and so a change is warranted.

  • The database meets our needs poorly. It makes sense to look for a new solution to improve the processes in place that are neither a good fit nor efficient.

  • A suggestion I usually make to our clients when they're looking to make a database change for these good reasons is to talk with their current provider to see if they will change or enhance the solution and make it better. If they agree to do so in a reasonable timeframe, the ministry saves time, momentum, and money.

    Having helped many through the process of researching and implementing new databases, I've found that few are prepared for the inevitable: a change in business processes. ("But we've always done it that way!")

    Changing databases means, among other things, a change in business processes. A reluctance to change processes often means forcing the new database to do things inefficiently. Many don’t realize this when they set out to find a new database, and because they haven’t talked that important issue through at the leadership and staff levels, they’re never happy with their new system.

    Keep in mind that there are users in your ministry that don’t want to change! Working this through from the leadership level all the way down can make a huge difference in a successful database upgrade.

    Each Fall I write an article that lists all of the providers of church and ministry databases. The 2008 article is freely available in PDF format by clicking here.



    bemason said...

    Thanks for covering this critical subject. THe approach you mention is wise and sound. New systems always seem so compelling, but you are correct, the hardware underpinnings make a huge difference in performance. Coupled with responsive vendors, there is a lot of agony and frustration whcih can be resolved through planning and collaboration with an existing vendor.

    Thanks for the good advice!

    bemason said...

    Great advice for any database upgrade, and particularly for ministries who must effectively equip their team and appropriately account for their expenditures.