So You Want to Run a Database Query? [The EverTrue Evangelist]

Welcome back to The EverTrue Evangelist! You may remember from my first post that this is an ongoing series about the challenges of advancement professionals. Having spent three decades in fundraising—and now the chief evangelist at EverTrue—I’m excited to explore how EverTrue’s software provides remarkable solutions to these challenges.


First up: Why is running a database query so time-consuming, and how can EverTrue help?

In conversations with institutions of every size and shape, my colleagues and I hear over and over again that accessing data from CRMs is hard and that report writing is a frustrating, time-consuming process. It doesn’t matter which database an institution uses, how large the team is, or how much money they raise each year. The fundamental challenges are there.

One of our customers, a national university with a highly sophisticated development operation, once told us that a straightforward report—say, a list of $10,000 lifetime donors in San Francisco—would likely require a 12-day advance request. By the time the report made its way through the queue, that trip to the Bay Area may have already happened.

Another customer, an independent school with a development staff of eight, said that a request for prospects in Atlanta, sorted by prospect manager, had been “in the works” for three days—but they still didn’t have the desired list.

Why does it take so long to produce that information? Well, for most institutions, data extraction requires a five-step process:

  1. Write the criteria.
  2. Determine the output.
  3. Run the report.
  4. Validate the results.
  5. Deliver the report.


Often, this process gets repeated several times. And each of those steps is time-consuming.

In the first step, the requester may not know exactly what he or she is looking for, leading to considerable back-and-forth between the requester and the report developer. In the second, the report developer may have to redesign the output depending on how the requester wants the information to look.

Of course, the actual running of the report can take time—especially given other demands on the database team. And there’s always the chance that the report writer might have to start over after realizing that he forgot to add a field or that something should be written differently.

When the report is finally delivered and the requester says, “This isn’t what I asked for!” the process begins anew. No surprise, then, that it can take days or even weeks for complicated requests.

Ted Van Patten, the director of development operations at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, said that although some database companies are integrating dashboards and easier user interfaces into their CRMs, there are still issues with their solutions:

“The caveat is that these tools are typically connected to sophisticated back-end data tables rather than to the relational database. So considerable time is spent on setting up the back-end, and you need a really strong server-level database skill person to make it all work.”

From my own experience in development, I know that many requests I made of my database team were to satisfy my curiosity. “Are there enough rated prospects in Omaha to justify a trip out there?” “If all of this year’s LYBUNTs gave what they gave last year, how much would that add to our annual fund?” So my overworked, beleaguered team would produce the report. (Lo and behold, there weren’t that many great prospects in Omaha, and a Nebraska visit was off the table.)

How does EverTrue’s GivingTree change this dynamic? Unlike traditional CRM systems, which use slow and archaic servers, GivingTree pulls reports from best-in-class Amazon cloud servers. These servers securely store a copy of the institutional data, giving the user access to the CRM data as well as data from external sources like LinkedIn, Facebook, Zillow, and the U.S. Census.

GivingTree puts the power of search in the hands of frontline fundraisers so that they can get the answers they need. As David Frew, the associate director of development at Boston University (BU) Questrom School of Business, told us:

“I can spend less time trying to pick all the parameters necessary for my database to function and instead seamlessly choose criteria I want or need from GivingTree.”

Paul Cox, a major gift officer at Trinity University in San Antonio said that “with your database, you are dependent on people who don’t know what you really want. It takes me days or weeks to filter the report I need because the writer doesn’t have all of the context or knowledge. With GivingTree, I have lists and I don’t need to know any special drills to get there. You don’t waste a lot of time.”

At the same time, GivingTree relieves some of the burden on the advancement services team. Development Coordinator at BU School of Law Lillian Bichieri, who had previously been performing most of the query work for her team, said:

“Anyone can use GivingTree and basically have an immediate list.”

For more information on how GivingTree can simplify access to your data, streamline your queries, and put the power of search in the hands of your frontline fundraisers, contact my team at EverTrue here.

Jim Zimmerman is the Chief Evangelist at EverTrue and previously spent three decades in advancement. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

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