Confessions of a Nonprofit Database Administrator, Part II
Hi again, it’s me, your friendly neighborhood DBA. Back with another round of confessions. I hope y’all enjoyed my first–ever blog post! That was such an AMAZING feeling writing that. And even more amazing seeing all your comments and support for it! I hope by reading it you felt a little bit more like the ROCKSTARS that you are. If not, sit back, relax, and join your fellow data geeks for confessions part duex!!
Confession #1: It’s Geek to Me
Ok first confession – I HATE the term data geek. I’m more of an OCD sort of personality when it comes to my work, my life …ok, not my car. I gave up on that as soon as I had kids. And my husband would argue that I am definitely not OCD about the cleanliness of my home office (It’s a work in progress). But mostly I hate that term because it assumes that I just love to be knee deep in complicated queries, mathematical errors, or days-long spreadsheets. Yes! Give me that sweet, sweet donor data.
No. Thank. You.
I do however enjoy solving problems and providing solutions. Being a team player and leading my team towards victory! But truth be told, I like to do that in the cleanest way possible. The simplest way possible. Taking the road with least resistance and having support from my colleagues along the way. I want to make things EASIER!
The simpler you can make something, the more likely it is to be followed, remembered, and understood. Have a complicated process for tribute records and NOK notifications? Or how about addressing contacts at organizations? (Ok EVERYONE raise your hand here). The more complicated you make it, the less likely it is to be understood, and the more inconsistent it is in your system. Stop the inconsistency.
Whatever it is you find yourself trying to figure out or make sense of, take a step back and see if you can start from the beginning. If you have an operations team (count your blessings and hug them first and foremost) then bring them together for a team meeting and grab a whiteboard. Throw up the current process and break down its parts. Then have everyone identify what they believe to be the good parts and the bad parts. Erase the bad parts and try to fill in the blanks with ideas or processes that everyone is bought into. The more people who understand it, the simpler it already is. Don’t have an operations team? (Moment of silence for these folks, guys). Write down the steps of your new, simpler method. If someone else can follow it (simply) without error, fantastic! If they have questions, take that as complications you need to try and work out and go back to the
Confession #2: Front Office vs Back Office: Hatfields & McCoys?
I attended a high energy, motivational and totally kick butt session at bbcon 2020. Did you go? Did you attend What is a Database Manager? Me too! Oh, you are so my people! Anyway, one of the presenters said that us DBAs (or DBMs as he said and I am 10000% on board) are ‘a lot more than a list of technical skills.’ Yes! Thank you! (now can you tell everyone in my department?)
Here’s my second confession. Why does it seem like we are on the proverbial hamster wheel when talking about our skill sets, or our impact on the department? We just never get anywhere. Frontline fundraisers are the true gems of the department. Us back office folks are nothing more than glorified assistants. NO. Just plain no.
That statement is 100% false, and I have proof: Try getting volunteers who have never used your software, or never worked in a nonprofit for that matter, to help out at the registration table on the night of your annual gala. Most of you are nodding your heads and collectively yelling YES! Right?! Preach! I hear you.
Remember that Liam Neilson movie? “I have a very particular set of skills.” Well that is exactly right. Your skill set is particularly important to your organization’s mission AND the particular work that you do. To the smooth operation of your event. To the success of your fundraising campaigns. You are a GEM!
While there are definitely times that it seems like we’re as opposite as those two feuding families, the thing we have to remember is that we are all on the same team. We are all working towards the same goal: achieving our missions. It shouldn’t be us vs. them, we simply can’t be compared apples to apples. We have a particular set of skills, but so do they. A different set. I can tell you right now that while I can make gala checkouts look easy, I cannot for the life of me ask for a gift. It’s just not my cup of tea.
That being said, it’s a real Debbie Downer when you work so hard and don’t feel recognized for your efforts. In my opinion, it’s the responsibility of leadership in your department to recognize everyone’s contributions, but that’s just not always how it works is it?
So, my advice is to keep a log. Excel, Word, Powerpoint with flashy graphics… something where you can jot down your wins, your efforts, your accomplishments, and those of your team as well. It will ultimately serve two purposes: to remind you (when you’re starting to get that angry grumble under your breath) that you have done a lot of impressive things in your time and that your team has rocked it this year and accomplished so much. Make sure to add some language around how these successes contributed to the overall success of the department. This will brighten your day and hopefully remind you how bad— you are. It will also be a great resource for employee reviews for both you and your team.
This is especially true today. We are all so vital to our nonprofits now, with everything 2020 has thrown at us. Everyone has a stake in this battle, and everyone should feel empowered to do their absolute best. So don’t spend time telling anyone what you’re worth, just show them. Be a team player and rise above the noise (or the bell when a gift comes in). Channel your inner Bill Belicheck (stay with me New England Patriots haters) and do your job. That’s where you shine, and where it’s important. Your value is there, whether you always feel it or not.
Confession #3: Sometimes I need Marie Kondo to find my joy
Raise your hand if you began working for nonprofits, hoping to become the next Bill Gates. I mean really, whoever started a career working for nonprofits expecting to strike it rich is in the wrong profession, amiright? Ok, now raise your hand if you began working in nonprofit operations for the glamour and prestige that so rightfully comes with it? No? No hands? Thought for sure I’d have one or two there…
Maybe we stumbled into it, maybe we worked towards it, maybe we didn’t realize we wanted to do it until we left a completely different career path for it. Whatever got us here though, we stayed. I’d like to go out on a limb and say we stayed for the mission. We work to support the work of our nonprofits, because we believe the organization is truly committed to helping good take over.
Confession #3, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Heck, it can sometimes be more like January in Massachusetts (if you’ve never experienced it, consider this a heads up). But it’s worth it.
It’s really hard, and I mean really hard, to see past the differences, opinions and personalities in your office at times. I know it can and has made me question why I do what I do. Nonprofit Advancement Services? No one’s rolling out the red carpet are they? My advice though, whenever you find that your day–to–day has got you down, or your value is not being recognized, remember this: I see you. We see you. All the database managers and advancement services ROCKSTARS across the country see you. Everyone who’s ever held a position in nonprofit operations sees you. WE will lay out the red carpet!
Every day will not be sunshine and rainbows, you’re not going to have everything run smoothly, there will be a mathematical error in a report or a wrong address mailed to. IT WILL HAPPEN. But don’t let it get you down. Learn from it and move on. It’s truly important to feel joy in the work you do, and that joy helps to motivate you as well as your peers. Over the years, I have met and worked with many different kinds of people. Some I got along great with, others not so much. Admittedly some places were harder than others to feel that daily joy and motivation. But what I tried to always count on to keep me going was the mission. The ‘why’ behind what we do. That and after–work happy hours.
Everyone in your nonprofit office has some connection to or passion for the mission. If they don’t, then tell Mr. Gates that he is in the wrong profession. I am proud to say I have worked for an organization that helped to save a friend’s life. I worked for another organization that fought to cure a disease that took a friend’s life. I worked, and gave my best, to the organization where I was able to deliver my two beautiful, healthy babies. I am so grateful to have contributed to the success of those organizations. And I DID contribute to that success.
At the end of the day, I can go home to my family proud of the work that I do because I am doing good work. Working in the nonprofit community, you are truly committed to helping good take over. We are change agents. And while our roles, pay, recognition, positions, and skill sets may be different, we are all united in that.