Database Decisions for the Nano-Nonprofit: Part 1


Arts organizations of all sizes grapple with the question of how best to house information on the array of individuals with whom they interact. From ticket buyers to donors, members to volunteers, every arts organization builds a variety of relationships with a variety of constituents. Complicating matters, of course, is that many times these groups overlap. For the organization that wants to understand all the dimensions of its patron relationships, obtaining complete and nuanced profiles is often a challenge, time-consuming at best and impossible at worst. Recent years have seen a burgeoning of Constituent Relationship Management systems (CRMs), about which a wealth of literature is available. But what data options exist for the smallest of artistic enterprises, those organizations in the early years of operation, with annual budgets under $60,000, and/or having a paid staff of 5 persons or fewer (if not entirely volunteer-run)? For these nano-nonprofits, what resources are most suited to their size and scope of operations?

Over the next 6 to 8 weeks, we will explore several CRM options through the specific lens of the nano-nonprofit, considering particular needs, constraints, and advantages of artistic organizations of that size. As we do, we invite readers to comment on what systems, if any, their small organizations use and what they most need help figuring out how to do.

Perhaps you’re one of the nearly half of all small and mid-sized organizations that store patron information in 4 or more places: Excel sheets, Word documents, the backs of money envelopes...the memory of your founder:



Maybe the “Constituent Chaos” quadrant of Paul Hagen’s Relationship Matrix is all too familiar:

Or maybe you’re still trying simply to capture the names and addresses of those who attend your events, ticketed or otherwise.

Whatever the current state of your patron information, the first step is to figure out what it is your organization seeks to accomplish. Who are your constituents? What do you want to know about each one? What type of support do they need? How do they attend events? Do you provide physical tickets? Where is patron information currently kept? Or is it? Who is in charge of maintaining those files? Are they digital or physical, stored on a hard drive or in the cloud?

If the task seems overwhelming, take heart. The small size, and often relative newness, of nano-nonprofits ideally positions them to take advantage of CRM potential. Institutional memory is young and easier to access; pertinent data are, typically, of a manageable proportion; and operational capacity is more agile compared to that of larger, established endeavors. All of these factors make it the perfect time for a small enterprise to get its information house in order. So come with us as we navigate the data jungle, and attempt to discern best practices for the artistic nano-nonprofit in the process.