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Safeguarding Your Fundraising Engine: Data Staff Flight Risk Part 2

Author: Julie Knight, PhD

Welcome to the second installment of our two-part blog series on the unintended consequences of data staff turnover in nonprofit organizations. In the first blog, we reviewed the institutional knowledge gap that can be created when data staff leave an organization. In the second installment, we will provide actionable recommendations on proactively gathering and preserving crucial information to navigate the challenges of safeguarding your fundraising engine and present three critical considerations for organizations to focus on regarding data staff turnover.

A staff member submitted their resignation letter; what are the following steps to retain their knowledge after they depart? The average notice period in the US varies from two weeks to one month. Current projects need to be completed or transitioned to other team members during that time. In addition, major processes need to be documented and assigned in the interim. According to the US Department of Labor JOLTs Survey, it takes more than 30 days to hire a new staff member, depending on the position, meaning this immediate download and upload of knowledge sharing from departing staff will fall onto the existing team. Compounding this situation is the length of time that the departing staff member has been with your organization accruing institutional knowledge about their role and the work they’re doing.

Data staff that are a part of centralized teams are uniquely positioned to impact all departments and levels of the organization. As a result, the work that they are doing may be easily codified, but the knowledge that they have gained of the systems and operations of their internal partners is difficult to explain. The 15–30-day window of knowledge sharing during the resignation period may be sufficient time to transition the codified knowledge, but little else.

There are three recommendations for how to proactively gather the codified knowledge across the team so that the notice period can focus on other areas:

1. Create standard operating procedures (SOPs). These guides cover various themes ranging from how to use a specific technology, or the entire technology stack, to process gift payments. If a combination of screenshots and text is needed, Scribe is helpful. Loom is a free tool to capture information on a computer screen with voiceover instructions.

2. Update the data dictionary and notes. A data dictionary should also be separate from the SOP archive that the team creates and manages. Every data point with assumptions considered to develop it should be outlined in a central location accessible to the team. For example, the “A” space in ABC123 stands for the month, “B” for the channel, etc. In addition, have the team standardize adding notes to their queries to make it easier for future staff to know what assumptions were made when creating datasets and reports.

3. Make a list of fields that require manual data updates. The data updates are typically needed after the close of books at the end of the fiscal year. Otherwise, automated reports will not be accurate. The changes are based on how the data is mapped and the CRM's capabilities. It could be as simple as adding new fiscal year goals or updating the fiscal year number in the field name. The reporting will be delayed unless completed.


We know staff are going to transition out of the organization. Doing this work in advance makes it easier for staff to transition. Rather than creating these materials at the point of resignation, creating the materials over time has additional benefits. The information is beneficial for new staff or promoted staff to familiarize themselves with the role during onboarding quickly, enables cross-team knowledge sharing, and is a refresher for existing staff if the product or process is not regularly used. Lastly, the ongoing build of these materials showcases where there might be a gap in information or technology.

The main limitation for all of us is time. However, it is significantly less time-consuming to create this material and update it regularly than making it all at once. It is easier to obtain the partnership and collaboration of the team if they are part of the creation process and see the value of the work (i.e., tickets submitted, organizational understanding of data terms, etc.). As a leader, you set the tone for the impact and value of the team and their work. But don’t be afraid to include them in your process. In doing so, you might even retain staff that might have considered leaving.


Shaff Fundraising Group is a consulting firm specializing in fundraising, marketing, and analytics. We take pride in our independent approach, free from technology affiliations with SaaS and other companies. This allows us to provide objective, solutions-oriented support to our client partners and the wider fundraising and engagement community.


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