Baking Good Data

If I’ve had a particularly difficult day, you’ll find me in the kitchen baking bread.  For me, there’s something in the process of mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough and baking the final product that is relaxing.  By the time I’m done, I’ve been able to work through the events of my day and I get to relax with a cup of tea and a freshly baked slice of bread.  It’s a fairly cheap outlet for stress and no one on the WIST team minds when I show up with homemade goodies!

Recently, it occurred to me that, while nowhere near as delicious, there are some correlations between baking and good data.  Both require attention to detailed instructions, the quality of the end product depends upon what you put in and consistency is key to ongoing success for both.

  • Detailed Instructions – Paying attention to detailed instructions makes all the difference when baking (if your water is too hot, you’ll kill the yeast and bread won’t rise). It’s no less important when it comes to working in a donor database.
    1. You need to know how the software is intended to work and also what settings your organization has decided to use.
    2. You won’t be able to maximize your use of the system if you don’t know how it is supposed to be used.
    3. Skipping steps in data processing will always lead to incomplete data and reduced quality in reporting and mailing lists.


  • Quality Ingredients – In my kitchen, margarine is a bad word. I’m a firm believer in using real butter.  Butter makes my baked goods taste better, so I refuse to use a product that (in my opinion) affects the end result of my baking.  The same is true for your database.  Don’t skimp in areas that will affect your end results!  What you put into your database will always directly affect what comes out.
    1. If you need to spend the money to clean up your data, work to find room in your schedule or your budget to do so.
    2. If your staff needs training, find a quality option that you can afford.
    3. If you don’t know where data should be entered, ask the software company support team, a certified consultant or a local power user. Don’t just guess!!


  • Know your functionality – While I don’t believe in margarine, I have been known to use coconut oil from time to time in certain recipes when I’m out of butter. While it works well in some recipes, others really are better with butter, so I’ve learned when I can use it and when I can’t.  When it comes to the database, you need to know how fields interact and when you can use which field for your intended outcome.
    1. Make it a point to learn the strengths and weaknesses of different fields. Find out which ones work with which reports, queries/lists, etc.
    2. Don’t make “substitutions” (or creative data field choices as I call them) without understanding the implications.
  • Don’t Rush – When I bake bread, it’s important to give the dough time to rise. If I put it in the oven too soon, the end result isn’t nearly as good.  With your data, it’s important to take the time to learn your system and to learn how your organization has used the system.
    1. Don’t make changes to code systems until you thoroughly understand who created that system and what they were attempting to do.
    2. Delete sparingly. The last thing that you want to do is permanently delete something that actually is needed.
    3. Test any major changes before you actually make them. “Measure twice, cut once” is never bad advice!


  • Be consistent – One of my favorite bread recipes is a sweet bread called “Finnish Cardamom bread.” In order to get the same results every time, I have to follow the same recipe and use the same ingredients. Data is no different
    1. You have to track data consistently in order to pull reports. Don’t switch fields around and expect good results.
    2. Don’t make changes without considering the consequences. You may need to change how you do things, but make sure you look at the change from every angle and adjust historical information accordingly so that you can use your data well.

Precision matters in both baking and data. You can’t expect good results if you don’t put quality in to start.  If your database is messy, make clean up a top priority.  Your fundraising effectiveness depends upon it.

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