Working for NYSHA this summer has been an adventure. Although our working relationship between CGP and NYSHA is extensive, you truly never understand an organization until you are down in the trenches with everyone. Being interested in development, one of my major goals this summer was to familiarize myself with the database Raiser’s Edge. For those who may not know, Raiser’s Edge is routinely used by organizations (not always non-profits) to keep track of, well, just about anything! Membership, fundraising, ticket sales, donations, marketing, education…you name it, Raiser’s Edge can fit your needs. It’s an extremely powerful tool and one (or a similar database like it) that non-profits often rely on to maintain the day-to-day stability of the museum.
At first, the database can be extremely daunting. There are virtually endless combinations and possibilities in mapping out information within the system. When I was first asked to find out specific information about one of our constituents, I was a little overwhelmed by the number of tabs, buttons, and data fields. However, with any technology you’re unfamiliar with, the best thing to do is just roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and, frankly…figure it out! After a summer of trial and error, many tears, a few choice words, and a computer meltdown, I finally feel comfortable using, inputting, and confident in saying I have Raiser’s Edge experience.
Among the most confusing and frustrating aspects of Raiser’s Edge isn’t the technology it uses to run—it’s the people use it. Or, more accurately, the people who have used it. The lack of consistency within the system has been one of the major stumbling blocks not only for myself, but for the people who need to use this database to perform critical aspects of their job. The lack of standardize practice and coding over the years had led to some pretty glaring deficiencies within the program.
One reason for this that in the past, when the program was still being tested and molded to fit NYSHA’s needs, the administration lacked the understanding about just how integral Raiser’s Edge would be for the institution. This led to a lack of mandatory standardization and, as we all know, once something starts in motion it can be extremely difficult to stop the momentum. Another reason is that the pool of people who have had access and editing power with the database has dramatically expanded and contracted throughout the years. The nearly constant turnover led to different systems that would last for a year or two before another, “better” system would be enacted. Allow for human error, technological malfunctions, and different versions of Raiser’s Edge and you have one complicated soup to try and keep from drowning in.
All of these factors have got me thinking just how dependent museum’s are on the technology that serves them (or sometimes disserves them). Although that seems trite and cliché to say, because, really what aspect of our life isn’t dependent on technology, I still cannot help but wonder what would happen if NYSHA’s Raiser’s Edge system just suddenly bit the dust. What’s the contingency plan? Where are these sources of information coming from? For instance, at an event last week one of our high-level donors was around and no one from the Development staff knew about him. He was extremely gracious about it, but it was a bit of an embarrassment. I kept thinking about how it could happen and I came to the realization that through Raiser’s Edge I knew everything you could possibly know about this man (his address, his phone number, his wife and children’s names, the number of gifts he had given NYSHA, how he’s coded into the system, etc.), but I still didn’t know him. There was no cultivation or connection with him other than the sterile and cold information Raiser’s Edge spits out at me.
So what happens when our technology fails us? What happens when a lack of consistency has made a catch-all program a catch-less program? What are your internships teaching you about the boundaries and limitations museums constantly have to re-navigate? What’s your idea of striking a balance between a system (like Raiser’s Edge) that an institution cannot live without and finding ways to live without it?