Giving Databases Their Fairy-Tale Ending

After Fundraising Magazine named me one of their 25 Under 35, they invited me to be part of a talk they were giving. Of course I said yes – they appealed directly to my biggest weakness, the biggest weakness of any marketer, my ego (after which they then appealed to my second biggest weakness, the promise of a free breakfast).

That night I rushed out to excitedly tell my friends.

“That’s great!” they said. “What’s the talk about?”

“Database management!” I replied excitedly.

Their enthusiasm vanished.

Now databases can seem boring. Not to me obviously, hence why I’m writing a blog post on those bad boys. But some people definitely view the exciting world of CRM systems with a sigh, rather than a cheer.

So how do you get staff excited about your shiny new database?

Well, if you take the build-it-and-they-will-come approach, you will fail. If your approach is to try and get staff buy-in with talk of “a 12% increase in efficiency”, you will fail. If you go for a carrot-and-stick approach, hoping that if the habit is strong enough they’ll carry on using it even when you stop supplying weekly baked-goods, you will fail.

No, you use something far more powerful.


Databases aren’t statistics. A database is the collection of fascinating people who want to be involved with the amazing work you do. Every single entry is someone who has given something to support you, whether it’s their time, money, or just an email address for now.

These are people who want to change the world. It’s your job to help them do that.

Charities have nothing to sell to donors. There’s no physical product, no service, no transaction that you can offer (besides the warm, fuzzy feeling, which is admittedly pretty damn nice). All charities have to sell is a story. So they’re usually pretty good at it.

So why not use those skills on our own people?

Instead of demanding colleagues get excited about data input and field values, give them a reason. Show them how it helps. Tell them the stories behind what they’re doing, and the life-changing impact it will have. They’re a dedicated, passionate workforce who care about your cause so make them hungry to get their hands on their new database and unleash its potential.

Tell stories like:

  • Sally graduated from university two months ago. She’s currently interning with a big law firm, making barely enough money to live in the capital, but she still manages to give £3 a month to support our cause. She doesn’t like direct mail (she’s renting so she moves around too much) but she reads all the emails we send her, and is interested in other ways to help.

  • Brendan got in touch a last week to make a £200 donation. After a call to thank him, it turned out the money was in memory of Tim, a member of Brendan’s football team who sadly passed away from cancer. The money was collected from all the other teammates, none of whom know much about cancer. They would love to do an awareness day or something, they just don’t know how.

  • As a retired nurse, Harriet can’t really afford to make a regular donation, but the W.I. group she belongs to hold a bake sale once a month to raise money for different causes. When it was Harriet’s turn to pick the charity, she chose us. She has an email address, but never really checks it, so would much rather have a phone call. She thinks that, with the right information, she might be able to get the W.I. to hold a special fundraising event.

A well-organised database makes all of this information available in a few clicks. It’s not about making more work for staff, it’s about knowing who’s in your army trying to change the world.

And of all the stories your cause can tell, there’s none more powerful than that.

If you want to get in touch and ask any questions about storytelling in the charity sector, check out my contact page.