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Mission of the Month: Q&A With GBCS's Michelle Whittaker on Constituent Database Management


gbcslogo1x1-largeThis was originally published on FundRaising Success by Joe Boland

When Michelle Whittaker took over as the digital communications director at the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) more than six years ago, her first priority was to maintain the supporter database and help manage and cultivate activists.

GBCS is an official program agency of the United Method Church. Its mission is to advocate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the church and society by serving all United Methodists in terms of implementing the United Methodists' social doctrines and principles.

"We have a very active number of United Methodists who are interested in social justice issues, so we work actively with them to help engage and empower them in the work and to voice the issues and raise concerns with the community, the world and legislative leaders," Whittaker says.

In order to do that, GBCS needs an organized, effective supporter database management system. In 2012, GBCS partnered with a new database management system, Salsa Labs, and has seen growth in its overall supporter file and certain network files, as well as enhanced engagement among its constituents.

FundRaising Success recently had a quick conversation with Whittaker about what GBCS was looking for in a database management system and what advice she has for other fundraising and advocacy nonprofits looking to partner with a database management vendor.

FundRaising Success: What were you looking for when you decided to explore different database management solutions?

Michelle Whittaker: The criteria we were looking at in a new system were the ease of use; a strong support system; a good advanced sense of technology in terms of how they're adding technology, updating technology and managing that; and really easy front-end and back-end ways to maintain our database. Also, we were looking for something that allowed us to utilize new technology, and then easy and open architecture for us to integrate other third-party tools that we might want to use.

FS: What advice do you have for other organizations exploring database management solutions options?

MW: You're not looking for bells and whistles; you're looking for functionality. You want to find a tool that really puts functionality at the forefront, something that makes sure things work properly, there's good ease of use for back-end and front-end users. You have to find a tool that works really well for you. Make sure you have a good sense of what's going on, that you're able to leverage the information and statistical data that you're getting as well as levering the real contacts and actionable items that people are taking. Then you need to be able to use that to affect change throughout the world.

The biggest thing people are struggling with, from my experience, is just finding a solution that allows staff to easily do the work it needs to do on a daily basis. Your database management system needs to allow your staff members to have the ability to easily set up an e-mail, set up an action alert, be able to understand who is in your database and be able to target the right folks with the right message. All of those things are key in terms of you being able to effectively do your work and having a good tool in your pocket for maintaining strong connections with constituents.

You need a tool that works well with your experience. You need something that is functionally capable of what you need to do and creates an experience that makes it easier for everybody to do their job. You want a tool that you're not thinking about the technology you're using; you're able to just say this work because it becomes second nature. You want your employees to become empowered by the technology, not hindered by it.