New Job and Seriously Disorganized Data? A Roadmap to Sanity

This post was written by Renee Blinkwolt, producing director of The Playwrights Realm.

Organize the Puzzle
Since I started producing theatre, I’ve worked with many small companies and a few larger LORT companies, and a couple of times I have taken over the reins at an organization with zero transition time. I know that every time, data collection and management has been a key challenge — made more difficult by high turnover, founder transitions, lack of funds, or all of the above!

Yet, there’s little talk about this issue. It’s not fun or sexy, or maybe it just seems highly personal and somewhat overwhelming. But there are some steps that each of my experiences have shared — and these steps may be helpful to some other young leader who is taking the reins of an organization that hasn’t systemized its data just yet.

1. Don’t Panic

  • So you’re not sure with whom your new company has been talking, let alone how (or why). Take a deep breath. It can seem overwhelming, but with a few simple steps, you can take control of your data.

2. Collect Your Connection Points

  • Patrons interact with your company in a variety of ways. The first step to organizing your data is assessing the contact points your patrons have with you. These can include:
    • In Person. Are you collecting data at the theatre? In your lobby? Your playbill? At events?
    • Online. Do you have a email list signup on your website? A “contact us” link? Can you make a donation online? Where does the donor information go?
    • Box Office. Does your box office collect patron information during the ticket purchase process?
    • Email Newsletters. Is there an opportunity for your patrons to update (or delete) their contact information from within your email?
    • USPS. Do your patrons return updated contact information in response to patron mailings?
  • These are just a few of the ways patrons can interact with your company. It’s possible, even likely, that your company has more. Engage your staff in this process and have them list for you the different contact points they have with your patrons. The more comprehensive this list, the better organized and more streamlined your data system will be in the long run.

3. Streamline Your Connection Points/Make a Master List

  • Once you’ve listed all the ways patrons interact with your company, you can make sure that the data being collected at these connection points is going to the same place.
  • At this point, you’ll have to make a decision about a database to use. Vendors offer various database options at different price points. Patron Technology’s PatronManager CRM is obviously one of these. Do some research, ask around, and find the best match for your needs.
  • Whatever database you choose to use, make sure that all connection points feed into it with the same information and use the same labels so that later you can easily pull distribution lists from this master list and they will all have the information you need.
  • Make sure that you set up a system to keep this list updated as you collect new information from your connection points.

4. Customize Your Master List

  • The great news is, you’re almost there! So far, you’ve made sure that you’re using every patron interaction as an opportunity to collect information, and you’ve streamlined that information into one master list that contains all the info on every patron. Now all you have to do is segment and customize that master list so that you can communicate with the right patrons at the right time.
  • You can either segment your list based on characteristics, like age, or based on actions, like XYZ Show Ticket Buyer. Personally, I think actions are better indicators of future behavior, so I usually segment my list by actions like donations (including size and date), ticket purchases, event attendance, information sharing, volunteering, etc. Whatever way you choose to segment your list, be as consistent and specific as possible.

5. Voila! You should now have a comprehensive list of your patrons that is segmented using qualifiers that indicate how and when you should talk to each patron in the list.

Of course, every organization’s history with data will be different, and all kinds of factors will affect the specifics of how you go about solving your data problem — like size of staff, budget, audience, etc. I’ve found these steps to be a great place to start at each organization I’ve worked with, and I hope other leaders will find them useful as they take the reins of an organization.

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