4 min read

It's Time to Position Your Nonprofit Database Administrator as a Leader, Not Just an Order Taker

Babysitters. Button-pushers. IT support. These are just some of the misnomers too often applied to the role of database administrator (DBA) in nonprofit organizations.

And the stereotypes aren't entirely unfounded. Day-to-day database administration often involves a never-ending stack of support desk issues, case closure requests, and other “quick fixes” that have little impact on the organization’s long-term CRM success. In organizations of every scope and size, database administrators are consistently undervalued—especially considering the transformative role they can play when utilized to their fullest.

What would it take for you to start empowering and positioning your DBA as more than a professional mouse-clicker? Think it over carefully, because how you answer could mean the difference between CRM success and failure.

Finding or empowering the right database administrator requires the right guidance

Anyone seeking to gauge an organization’s overall health and potential success should look no further than the DBA. As keepers of the CRM, these individuals have the power to facilitate a true center of excellence by strategizing with key stakeholders, identifying short- and long-term configuration and process impact, and maximizing ROI through thoughtful internal leadership.

Most people in the nonprofit world understand the need for DBAs, but very few know how to spot this highly detail-oriented person in the wild, and even fewer are prepared to fully utilize her even after they’ve successfully brought her into the fold. Further complicating matters, many capable DBAs themselves are unaware of their immense potential. Even those who have identified problems and solutions in the system often find their calls to action falling on deaf ears in an organization that’s doing its best to manage day-to-day functions, with little time to focus on the bigger picture.

This is where consultants come in. At the outset of the implementation process, consultants seek out the person who knows the system like the back of their hand—more often than not, that’s the DBA. And in short order, they typically come to learn that role is not valued or empowered (not to mention paid) enough to make effective decisions on behalf of the organization. From there, they get to work helping leaders right the ship and put control back in the hands of the person holding the keys to their CRM success.

Leaders: When strategy is optional, so is success

One thing all nonprofit leaders must realize if they want to be successful is that organizational strategy is just as important as the product itself. Failing to prioritize good organizational strategy will do more than throw a wrench in the works; it has the potential to spell major financial losses and the eventual demise of the organization.

Pro tip: Pick a consulting partner who focuses on strategy before execution. Their outside perspective will help provide strategic insight.

Particularly when it comes to defining the database administrator role for maximum impact, it’s all about strategy. CRM literally stands for constituent relationship management, but nonprofit organizations should really be working to achieve constituent intelligence management. And that starts with effectively managing the database. That's why, more than simple tech support, DBAs must be empowered to implement both short- and long-term strategies within the organization's technology systems, with technical strategy serving as the infrastructural backbone of organizational effectiveness.

Tips for hiring, training, and empowering a database admin who can do more than jump to solutions

Maximizing the role is not entirely under leadership’s purview. DBAs themselves must resist the stereotypes and limitations that sometimes plague their position. In order to think and act effectively on behalf of the organization, they must learn to think like a consultant, building processes of their own to confidently lead the team toward each end goal.

Pro tip: Start with learning tools like Salesforce's Trailhead program. But also ask your consulting partner if they have services to assist with this. Many partners have coaching or training related to DBAs. At Now IT Matters we offer Guidance.

The first rule of thumb leaders should instill in their database administrator: Never agree to a quick fix in the meeting where it's requested. Always check in with other stakeholders to confirm what impact the change might have on others within the organization. Here are some additional measures DBAs can take to win back the power and utilize their position to its maximum potential:

  • Create predictable patterns and a feedback loop for users. Thanks to AI and machine learning, DBAs can now automate routine tasks like patching, upgrading, provisioning, and making backups that once took up a significant portion of their day. A fully utilized DBA is one who uses their newfound freedom to start focusing on next-level organizational goals and CRM initiatives.
  • Monitor user adoption. Technology is changing at lightening speed, making it more important than ever to get your entire team on board with the system. Make sure your DBA's training is consistently up to speed, and that she is using the many tools at her disposal to track how people in your organization are interacting with the CRM. In addition, she should be prepared to address slow or low user adoption as it arises, instead of letting small issues stack up until they become major ones that your organization will have to bring in a consultant to manage.
  • Focus on communication. Teams, especially remote ones, can’t achieve the right outcomes if they’re not communicating properly. Have your DBA pick a platform the whole team can get behind, and make sure everyone has the training they need to use it. Further, DBAs are ideally poised to foster an environment of trust, where users feel encouraged to raise their hands early and often when they spot a problem with the system.
  • Treat users like clients. This can be easier said than done in the throes of day-to-day operations, but it's vital for your DBA to adopt a professional attitude and demonstrate a willingness to do research when users encounter problems. The right attitude will go a long way in boosting your team’s confidence and comfortability, thereby optimizing CRM performance.

The bottom line: When a consultant walks into your organization, they probably understand your product, but they have no way of knowing your organizational strategy. For that reason and many others, organizations that focus solely on optimizing products, while failing to appreciate the power and potential of the DBA, will always be at risk of losing a key employee and having to start from scratch. They will routinely need to hire consultants to come in for fixes and optimization measures.

Conversely, by investing in the database administration role—and the strategy behind it—you can ultimately reclaim the power and set your organization up for steady, measurable, and sustainable long-term CRM success.