Apra-IL presents Tales of Terror: The Prospect Development Edition. Inspired by series such as Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps, this series will present stories that thrill, excite, and chill you to the bone ... just in time for Halloween!
This story is brought to us by Amy Tibbs, Development Research Associate at the National Audubon Society and Apra-IL Secretary. Prepare yourself for a wild ride through the unincorporated territory of a database gone feral in Dial D for Data.
Dial D for Data
On a bright, crisp fall morning, as the leaves are starting to turn, Sheila walks through campus. “I got this,” she thinks. Having just started a new gig, she’s ready to prep for her first meeting with her gift officers. Sure, she doesn’t yet know everything there is to know about their portfolios. And she’s still figuring out everyone’s style. Sure, the database seems a little chaotic, but her predecessor Frederick did leave behind a manual. Well, “manual” is a strong word; pile of documents in a file drawer may be a better description … stack of scraps and post-its would be more accurate. Given Frederick’s mysterious disappearance, she’s just glad to have some guidance.
Shaking off a chill as she passes through the graveyard next to her office, she bounds up the stairs. Waving to colleagues and bypassing the morning hellos, Sheila spends an hour testing the multitude of reports in the system and digging in to see how they were built. In minutes, she discovers that Frederick updated his reports almost daily and never deleted or re-wrote the previous versions. She realizes organizing reports could be a full-time job! As she struggles through page after page of v.1, v.10, v.59, her inbox begins filling up with gift officer notes. She reads one about a professor driving a Tesla, which results in a request for a capacity review, and starts into another that begins, “Do you think that Jenny and John Smith are part of THE Smiths? How about a full family tree…” and she quickly closes Outlook. With little time to spare, she pulls a rudimentary portfolio review and heads to the conference room.
Sheila sits down and begins reading through the gift officer portfolio reports, but she can’t make sense of the data. Gift totals aren’t adding up, last actions are all over the place, and time in stage ranges from zero to 730 days! The last lives on a record for a couple that recently made a huge gift – everyone in town has been talking about it ever since.
A few gift officers arrive early and Sheila takes advantage of the smaller group to ask them what the process has been like on their end. They look at her blankly. “But do you see how there’s an update to this record from last week? Who put it in? I just want to know who to ask for some insight …” Sheila trails off as the fundraisers grin and assure her that the information in the system is good, and Sheila should trust it. How are the Jones and Smith projects coming along, by the way? The meeting goes on around her, but Sheila cannot stop thinking that this is all strange. Why are people holding out on such basic information; information she needs to do her job?
Later at the coffee machine, a newer gift officer approaches Sheila and furtively pleads with her, “You have to stop asking questions. Please! Stop! Don’t you see? I thought it was strange, too, but you have to stop asking, Sheila!”
“What!? What do you mean? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?!”
“Sheila, the gift officers all input their own data. Everyone has full editing access in the database. They’re changing addresses on a whim, adjusting allocations on gifts that don’t jive with the information in finance, they change criteria in the queries that feed our reports. They are even entering their own research notes based on Google searches. I saw them record that Jenny and John Smith have seven multimillion dollar homes. They rated them $1 kajillion dollars! I know Jenny! She works at Panera! They live in ONE house!”
Taking a breath, he quietly ends with, “I’ve said too much. I have to go.”
“That was weird,” Sheila thinks. But when she returns to her desk, she pulls up the Smiths’ record. And indeed, the couple has a free-text capacity rating of $1 kajillion. Mumbling to herself, Sheila wonders, “Why aren’t ratings recorded in a code table? Is kajillion a real number? It can’t be, right? No – Google confirms it. It’s a slang term and not a real number!” The Smiths’ record has seven current mailing addresses. Their birthdates are seventy-three years apart and they have zero history of giving or interacting with development. Despite that, their stage is listed as “Super Cultivation” and there is a projected ask of $2million! Confoundedly, the couple’s record also has some information correct: Jenny is listed as working at Panera Bread and John’s occupation is correctly identified as paper sales.
Her belly full of dread, Sheila knocks on the Executive Director’s door. Sitting down, she asks whether she understands correctly: that everyone in the office has full access to edit the database. The ED swivels around and stares at Sheila. As she continues to talk, she hears her voice growing frantic, “But who is vetting the information? How are you pulling information if everything is going into the database all willy-nilly?” The ED responds, “We know what’s best for our people, Sheila, and we know how to Google things just like you do. Run along now and build us some dashboards. We’re particularly interested in discovering whether prospects with male dogs are also interested in recreational sports and if so, what their super-secret-sub-stage is and where they are in the pipeline.”
Sheila, struck dumb, stammers, “But … but … that information is not … what? That information is … it doesn’t exist in the database in any way we could report out and … nothing is managed and …”
The ED breaks in, “Oh dear, Sheila. Don’t you get it? That is why you are here. It is yours to manage, but we’ll control the information.” With an evil chuckle, she swivels away and Sheila exits the office.
Back at her desk, Sheila’s inbox has exploded with requests for research, record updates, relationship connections, stage changes … why doesn’t anyone talk with her face-to-face? What’s with the influx of requests? Completely overwhelmed and perplexed, Sheila heads outside for a walk. As she passes the graveyard, she notices a freshly dug grave. With great trepidation, she approaches the headstone, which reads, “Frederick Meusch – b. 1974 d. 2017 -- He just couldn’t stop saying data integrity.”
Gasping, she turns on her heel to see the entire development team at the iron gates. Marching slowly toward her through the graveyard, they chant, “The data is good … The data is fine … Do your job or it’s your time.”