Original Posting 14.02.17
You know who you are. You may be a small but expanding organization, using the original way you developed to track data for your business. You may be a medium-size nonprofit that has been awarded a grant that now needs a way to regularly provide outcome reports. You may be a large organization that has access to tracking software at a national level, but it doesn’t track what you need, so you found a way to do it. Often, that way is Microsoft Excel. And it is making you tired.
You spend too much time scrolling around. You keep adding columns and worksheets. You find you need to hide columns just to understand your data. You look at the clock and two hours have gone by and you are still not done with your graph. You have multiple files and multiple versions and keep forgetting which ones you should use. Someone else has created problems with the data and you don’t know how to fix it without giving up your weekend. And you definitely don't want to add up the time your team is spending on this.
I’m tired just thinking about it.
Let me be the first to say that Excel is a great tool that, if it was up to me, should be on everyone’s desktop. It is pretty darn easy to use a spreadsheet to organize and understand a set of information. However, it is not a database. Managing an organization using spreadsheets can quickly become a time burden and present data quality and security risks, especially if you have sensitive individual information.
Databases are a much better way to efficiently track information, accurately and securely. A database stores data in “spreadsheet-like” tables. Properly organized databases store one type of data in each table. These tables each have an identifying column or “key” that is used to join related tables together. Modern database technology supports complex filters (queries) into the data, with very fast retrieval and powerful reporting. Once you set up the right filters and reports, it is then a simple matter to regularly produce required information - with little to no effort, and no manual errors. If data is updated once, it’s updated everywhere. In some cases you can even track longitudinal history and where and when the change took place. Now, don’t you want that tool on your desktop?
Even though change can be difficult, be brave – it’s the right thing to do.
If you are experiencing “chronic spreadsheet fatigue”, it is time to update to a database application. All organizations have to track and record operational data. And to provide a foundation – an infrastructure - for the future, it is important to develop data management best practices for your organization. Most organizations have a strong need to track those that they serve, what they provide and what impact the services have had. Forward-thinking leaders use this information to convey their value and target how they can improve their approach and their outcomes - and also to attract new funders, customers, employees and even volunteers.