By Elisa Shoenberger
Benchmarking Product Analyst, Grenzebach Glier and Associates
There are a couple of people at work who keep relying on me to help them with data. Some gift officers keep asking me to make data requests for them. They keep telling me that I do such a good job getting the data they want for their trips, mailings, and more. But it causes a lot of back and forth between our data team and the gift officers. I hate being the middlewoman! And then there are the folks who constantly ask me to add proposals and contact reports into the system. That’s really frustrating since it’s not my data. What do I do?
Tricky Data Situation
Dear Tricky Data,
That is a difficult situation. As prospect researchers, prospect managers, and analysts, we are positioned uniquely in our departments. We analyze data on a daily basis and we work with gift officers to help them be successful in their work. We may not know the data as well as the Information Systems folks, but we do understand how gift officers will want to use it. We are a bridge between departments. We also can help the gift officers figure out what data they need if they are lost. We probably know how to fix data points, like proposals, in the system. We speak data and reports.
But with great power comes great responsibility. The downside is that gift officers may start to rely on us as their sole translator of data as you experienced. We end up getting asked to do data requests for them. Sometimes they start to lean on us instead of learning or figuring it out how to do it themselves. Or they stop talking to the department actually doing the work. They may even ask us to help them add data to the system, specifically proposals and contact reports?
So how do we combat this? How do we walk that tightrope of being a resource but not doing their work for them? It takes a combination of finesse, assertiveness, and manager buy-in. I would gently encourage them to submit their own data requests. If they ask for assistance, be open to them. Meet with them. But at the end of the day, they need to be the one to submit the data. This makes the gift officer take ownership of the request. You get cut out as the middlewoman. They may still go to you for questions even after they get their data but they should be receiving the data from the data team. Now, there are some gift officers, notably at the vice president level, where you probably will have to facilitate the data requests at a more granular level but those are special situations.
With respect to data entry for proposals, it’s even trickier situation. Proposals are critical to an organization; it helps forecast revenue to your organizations. But there are so many aspects to proposals where data can be entered wrong. We may know how to enter a proposal correctly but the data is not ours. It’s the gift officer’s. We don’t know the donors; we don’t know how much we will ask them for money and for what. So we need to put the ball in the gift officer’s court.
There are a couple ways to help gift officers learn how to fix the data. You can offer to retrain them (and their admins) about proposal entry as often as they need. When people started at my organization, I would do a Prospect Management and Research 101 and then did a follow up one or two months later that focused on proposals. It helped to break up the training like that because new hires may be inundated in the first few weeks with data. Having documentation is also critical to this process! You could suggest an “Office Hours” where gift officers could come and ask questions about proposals. When we did it at my organization, it was helpful to have many gift officers (and their admins) in the room to answer questions that everyone was wondering. It really shows that you are a resource to them. These are not surefire ways to get perfect proposal entry but it helps remind gift officers that these are their responsibilities. It also helps to have a manager or director who buys into the notion that gift officers are responsible for their own data. They can be a resource to gently remind gift officers to handle their own data.
Like anything in fundraising, there’s no hard and fast rule. These are some strategies to help but it’s going to be a case by case situation.
Best of luck to you!