Be a Good Sport: Marketing and Development Should Play Nice with Data

This post is written by Aaron Heinsman, Director of Development at the Maryland Humanities Council.

There’s an old saw in the arts and culture world: Marketing and development departments don’t often see eye to eye…and that’s putting it mildly. While this is, sadly, often the case, I’ve been fortunate enough to work at several non-profit arts organizations — specifically CENTERSTAGE in Baltimore (in marketing) and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington (in development) — where our better, smarter instincts (eventually) prevailed. Our marketing and development teams were able to cultivate a healthy détente and sometimes even out-and-out respect for each other’s efforts.

Now you’re probably assuming that this was achieved only through happy hour-facilitated bonding over games, gossip, and griping about the higher-ups. While that certainly was a useful tactic, another helped us — and it should help you. It’s a simple one to grasp but challenging to implement: “playing nice” with your data. If you make a concerted, interdepartmental effort, you will boost not only your collegial spirit but also your productivity.

You need to do only two things to play nice with your data. First, establish formatting and usage standards for it. Then, and this is vital, actually observe them across all departments. This can be tricky, particularly when a rave review causes the phones to go berserk or your intern generates acknowledgment letters. But if you can persuade everyone who comes into contact with your data to do it — especially if your organization has an integrated CRM/ticketing/fundraising system, but still important even if you don’t — it’s going to make everyone’s life much easier.

1. It’s Good Great Customer Service

In our “Manage Your Preferences” world, we’ve come to expect a highly customized environment almost everywhere. If you’ve got standardized data on your customers’ full interactions at your organization (their purchases, their attendance, their giving, the correct spelling of their names, the fact that last year you lost their subscription order), you’re able to offer them highly personalized, knowledgeable service. You know that good customer service means repeat business, be it another ticket sold or another donation made. But if you have one account for Vicky’s subscriptions and another for Victoria’s gifts, it may end up being a secret that they’re actually the same person, a founding member of your planned giving circle, and someone you should serve with a smile even if it hurts. And that will make delivering a great service experience pretty darn tough.

2. It’s Straight-up More Efficient

What’s the point of collecting data if you cannot use it effectively for what you need to do? I have spent days (and days) scrubbing data after it has been exported for a direct mail project. I’ve also spent hours (and hours) and wasted reams of paper (re)printing large swaths of mail merges. Both scenarios wasted my time and my company’s money. Had the person who originally entered the incorrect (or correct-yet-duplicate) data spent an extra 20 seconds searching for a name variant, correcting a typo in a ZIP code, or noting that Mrs. Largesse said her husband had died, we could have saved a chunk of change (and my liver). And this doesn’t even take into account the time spent going back into the database to correct the source data once the mailing is out the door… don’t forget to do that!

3. It Breeds a Collaborative Environment

If marketing and development folks haven’t been playing nice with data, let alone one another, you know it’s probably gotten in the way of just getting things done. Important things, like lunch. You can change this potentially toxic environment. Get your departments together to create or review your data standards. Get them talking about what’s important to each in terms of formatting and data integrity. Have them collaborate in (re)crafting those standards and figuring out how and when and who will clean the existing data. Make the cleanup a contest with interdepartmental teams. Reward them for getting the most accounts scrubbed or de-duped with cupcakes or comp time. A little collaboration now — which will benefit them all (no more mail merge nightmares!) — can create or strengthen a bond that can lead to creative, unexpected, and satisfying collaborations later.

4. It’s Good for Everybody’s Morale (Seriously)

When you think of the highly successful people you know, you can bet that the chronic complainers aren’t among them. So if you want to get happy and get ahead, proactively reach out to your colleagues and collaborate on the solution to your database problems. The last thing the head of your organization wants to hear about is how you wasted time on bad data, that it’s all the fault of those ineffective so-and-sos. She wants you to handle your project, handle your negativity, and hand her a complete and accurate donor profile for her capital campaign solicitation lunch and a complete and accurate sales report for her board committee meeting. When your boss is happy (and efficiently served), you’re all happy.

5. It’s Not More Work; It’s an Opportunity for Success

Imagine this scenario: A customer on the phone mentions that the tickets he’s buying are an anniversary gift. Because your data is clean and your entire team knows how to enter data so it doesn’t create duplicate accounts or erroneous information, your box office rep realizes this isn’t, actually, a first-time customer (though his wife has made all the purchases before). So she makes a point of telling your marketing and development directors about the purchase. When the couple comes to the performance, your collaborative team leaders have arranged for a special mention during the curtain speech and champagne at intermission.

You can pretty much guarantee every single person the couple encounters in the next few days is going to hear about the amazing experience they had at your organization. That golden word of mouth = happy marketing department. You can also pretty much guarantee that your next direct mail appeal to that same couple will elicit a healthy response, too. Generous donation = happy development department. This is never going to happen if you have two (or more!) different or unlinked accounts for the same person.

Now get inspired, get creative, and get out there and play nice!

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