Why Data Is Like a Lab – Needs Love & Attention

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Have you seen this labr-adorable gem kicking around the interwebs?201601_1534_hgadg_smJust too sweet for words, right?

And anybody who’s ever raised a Labrador puppy knows that was a split second of cute amidst a fury of scrambling, petting, biting, jumping and many other gerunds as well.

Last time we talked about data needing rules and structure. Now we talk about data needing love and attention.  Just like a Labrador puppy in training.

Once the rules – a Data Styles Manual or guidelines – are in place, it’s not enough to have them if nobody’s following them and making sure they work.

Data, left to its own devices, will get unruly.  It’ll misbehave.  And I hear you thinking, “It’s not a really a thing.  Data, or a database, is an inanimate object.”

Entropy, though.


(theory)   A measure of the disorder of a system. Systems tend to go from a state of order (low entropy) to a state of maximum disorder (high entropy).

The more information you add to a system, the more likely it is to begin to degrade.  The more you expect of it – or don’t keep up with it – the more likely it is to re-create the messiness that caused the issues to begin with.

The more you ignore a Labrador Retriever, the more likely they are to misbehave.  The more instructions you give (No! Stop! Don’t! Quit! GET DOWN!) the more likely they are to just do their own thing.

Both need attention – love and caring.  TLC.


Training helps.  A lot.  When you work with a reputable dog trainer, you start by learning how your dog processes information – they’re not born speaking human.

Neither are databases. Know what you’re doing when you dive into a database.  Beginning to think the same way a database processes information is a huge help.

And both can smell fear.

Other ways to show some love to your database?

  • Keep it clean – always follow the standards for entry and clean up
  • Keep it limited – only a (very) few people should have actual access to enter/edit data
  • Keep it Up-T0-Date – whenever there’s a patch or an upgrade to the system, do it.  Your CRM provider is doing that for a reason.
  • Keep it Current – when you get new information about a record, don’t wait.  Change it then.
  • Regular NCOA and email appends
  • Regular wealth screenings

They say when you’re training a dog to set aside one block of time that is just you and the dog.  It builds trust, bonding, sets expectations.

Data’s the same way.  If you’re at all fearful of your data or your database, set aside a block of time once a week, twice a week, whatever your schedule will allow and show your data some love.



Facebook Live

We’ll come back to the discussion about Why Data is Like a Labrador Retriever after this brief digression.

Facebook Live.  Anybody using it in Fundraising?  Annual Fund?

John Haydon is one of those fundraising/digital marketing gurus who should be on your go-to list.  He’s got some great pointers for using it on a blog over at nonprofit hub.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with fellow fundraiser Jeanne Hamrick and Nina Radetich, of Radetich Marketing and Media, on her bi-weekly Facebook Live Small Biz Power.

You can watch the whole thing here:


PHENOMENAL experience.  But now I’m kind of obsessing on how Facebook Live could be incorporated into an annual giving program.

Obviously, Nina has a great studio set up, but you wouldn’t need it – in fact, being a little raw might be a benefit.

Off the top my head ideas:

  • Do a virtual gala – stay at home in your jammies and bid on an auction from home
  • Do a “Behind-the-Scenes” tour
  • Interview other donors and ask why they supported
  • Broadcast an appeal from on-campus/on-site
  • Talk to beneficiaries
  • Tell great stories
  • Have an address from the CEO/President/Board Chair
  • Show mission in action as its happening

Animal rescue organizations and dog training orgs are doing a fantastic job of sharing live feeds of puppies online.  That will melt your heart.  I fell for one in writing this blog.

Try it out; it’s got potential.

But, as in all good things, let’s not get distracted by Shiny Object Syndrome.  Be thoughtful, be strategic and recognize it’s not the silver bullet you’ve been searching for your flagging annual fund.  But, still . . . don’t forget to add some fun to it, too!

Why Data Is Like a Lab – Rules & Structure

How are Fundraising Databases Like a Labrador Retriever?  Reason #1 – They need Rules, Structure and Consistency

This is Barclay at eight weeks old:

That was a tough year . . .

Dogs, especially new puppies, need rules, structure and boundaries.  And everybody in the “pack” needs to follow the same rules, otherwise you get an animal that doesn’t listen, has behavioral issues and nobody can control.

Most Labrador Retrievers are surrendered to shelters before the age of 2 because of “behavioral issues” – and most of the time it’s because those cute little fuzzy puppies turned into 75 pounds of crazy.  Because of a lack of rules.

How many times a day do you hear, “Our data is just a MESS!”

Same issue . . .

Data needs rules, structures, boundaries.

Without structure, data tends to get messy.  A whole lot of contributing factors – high staff turnover, database changes, aging data, not keeping data updated (NCOA, etc.), data entry issues.

Check out this infographic on the true cost of bad data.  (It’s basically an ad, but it’s good info).  Another ad, but also good info can be found here on the 1-10-100 rule.

The absolute best way to ensure clean, accurate data is to establish clear data protocols that everyone who touches your databaase must adhere to.  It must be inviolable law.

And it must be comprehensive:

  • How are addresses entered (i.e. “St.” vs. “Street”)
  • What are standard salutations (formal vs. informal)
  • What data is collected?
  • How is data used?
  • Who has access?

And 1,000 other questions that need to be answered.  Do a Google search on “Data Standards Manual” and you will find hundreds of examples.  They may seem daunting, but they are comprehensive and serve as great guides.

A Data Standards Manual should live alongside your Branding Guide.  It’s a definitive statement about who you are as an organization and what you value – who you want to contact and how you want to contact them.

Your data is your single greatest resource and asset.  And it needs rules and structure if you want it to behave.

But my data is already a wreck!

That whole “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing?  Yeah, it’s hooey.


You absolutely can.  And you can absolutely clean a messy database.

Slowly, delicately, carefully, one step at a time.  But so worth it in the long run.

Dogs, especially Labrador Retrievers, are eager to please.  They spend their lives basically trying to figure out what we want from them.  They “misbehave” because we haven’t given them the rules.  We haven’t laid out the expectations.

Data is exactly the same way.  Set the expectations and LIVE by them.  The data will follow along.  And you’ll both be happier for it.


Why (Fundraising) Data Is Like a Labrador Retriever

These are Labrador Retrievers:


To be specific, these are MY Labrador Retrievers – left-to-right:  Oliver, Barclay and Tucker Buck-White, aka The Buck-White Boys.

Labrador Retrievers – or labs – have been the most popular dog in the United States for twenty-five years.  They’re great, great dogs – especially these three knuckleheads.

Bred to work in the the icy waters of Newfoundland, they are known for their friendly and good-natured temperament, their easygoing attitude, willingness to learn and to work and for being dependable.  They’re among the top choices for assistance dogs, too.

They are also how this blog got its name – I have labs, it’s a lab for testing ideas – get it?

You gotta love a lab.  I mean, how can you not with these faces?


I never meant to have three labs – they’re really a handful.  I also never meant to really into data, but here we are.  And so – like chocolate and peanut butter, two great tastes that taste great together – somehow labs and data got mixed up in my head and I went, “YES! A fundraising database is JUST like a Labrador Retriever.”

And now you’re looking at me like:










Yes, really.

Databases are just like Labs.  Less drooly and not as fun to snuggle with, but there are a lot of similarities.

So, the Top 10 Reasons Why Fundraising Data Is Like a Labrador Retriever.  Both Data and Labs:

  1. Require Rules, Structure and Consistency
  2. Just Want to Make You Happy
  3. Need Attention
  4. Want to Be Understood
  5. Have to Play
  6. Can Smell Fear
  7. Are Bred to Help
  8. Must Exercise
  9. Need Sustenance
  10. Have to Rest

Over the next few days and weeks we’ll be taking a deeper dive into these similarities.  Just remember, though, any discussion on data – or Labrador Retrievers – should always be followed by a good nap on the sofa: