Dear Spreadsheet Whisperer,
I am a volunteer coordinator of a giving circle. We have a wonderful community of donors and high impact grantees. However, our spreadsheets are getting just a bit unwieldy. With nearly 200 donors, my Excel is getting out of hand. However, we probably don’t need a full fledged database – plus, we don’t have funding for it. What should I do next?
Yours, Tzedakah Tsuris
Dear Tzedakah Tsuris,
What an incredible labor of love and transformation it is to coordinate this collective giving effort! I am in awe of your persistence and your vision for change. We know that the administrative systems need to align with the giving circle’s potential – but the tools that you have today are holding you back. Lucky for you, I have a great recommendation!
First, let’s review your Data Types. It sounds like you have 2… mayyyybe 3. I find it extraordinarily helpful to map out each of my columns ahead of time, so that I can make sure I am tracking the right things. Here’s what I came up with when I thought about the datapoints in your project:
Data Type 1: Donations
- Gift amount
- Gift date
- Gift format (check, online, etc)
- Gift designation (if applicable)
- Solicitor (if applicable)
- Campaign (if applicable)
- Donor name
- Donor acknowledgment preference (probably a formula field, connected to Donor record)
- Donation acknowledgement status
Data Type 2: Donors
- First name
- Last name
- Preferred name
- Salutation (optional)
- Address (Street, City, State, Zip)
- Areas of interest (free response or drop down)
- Donor acknowledgment preference
- Recent event or engagement (this would be a special field type)
- Total giving history (this would be automatically calculated)
- Last giving date (this would be automatically calculated)
Data type 3: Engagement (optional)
- Date of contact
- Outreach type (phone, meeting, event, etc)
- Solicitor name
- Contact name
- Notes (free response)
- Follow up (free response)
For awhile, you can smoosh all of your data (Type 1, 2, and 3) into one spreadsheet with lots of columns. But eventually, if all goes according to plan, you will outgrow it. That’s generally a good thing!! Even though, as we all know, change is hard.
I don’t know how many columns you already have in your spreadsheet system, but I’m guessing it’s quite a few. Once you get deep into the double letters, it might be time to explore the multi-tab approach. Each tab represents a different type of data, and yet, you want to preserve relationships between the data. That’s not super easy to do in Excel or Google Sheets, but there’s a platform that handles it well called Airtable. Let’s take a look together!
In the screenshot below, I am building a “Base” in Airtable that mirrors the list of columns we need for our Donation data type. Before I took this picture, I clicked the “plus” sign to add a column and then I selected “Link to another record.” My “New Table” will be for Donors.
Now, I have TWO tabs in my Base! I also typed in some sample data for us to use as an example. You can see below that we have 3 donations entered, two from me and one from you. Your donation tab will look like this, but it will have a lot more rows and columns!
Every “Donation” row can be linked to a Donor. And each Donor? Well, you can easily see their giving history with just the click of a button.
This structure applies to what we database makers call a “One To Many Relationship.” By having your donors in one tab, you can show that one donor has many donations (woo hoo – good job, fundraising coordinator!) without repeating donor information or having a gazzilion columns. This is the building block of a relational database. But let’s not get too caught up in jargon… sometimes I just can’t resist.
Many tricks that you can do in a Spreadsheet translate well to Airtable! You can sort, filter, and re-arrange… hide, group, chart, visualize, and more! You can drag and drop, or view as a calendar, or all sorts of shnazzy things that I’ve never much needed. But heck, Airtable has them!
One thing that I really like is the “multiple select” option. (Salesforce friends are going to cringe, but park your judgement at the door!). It’s super useful for tagging donors based on recent events they have attended. I created an example here… and may have gotten a bit carried away. I’m really feeling impatient for in person gathering today, more than usual!
Now you can see that Samantha Shain (that’s me!) has two donations and came to two events. Tzedakah Tsuris (that’s you!) has one donation and came to two events. Both of us were, apparently, at New Years Toast. L’chaim! As time progresses, you can easily add and archive events that are no longer relevant.
If you want to expand beyond a Multi Select option for engagement, you can create a third tab and log outreach there. I am not going to include that in this blog post because I want to keep to the bare bones basics, but if you think that would be helpful, it would be simple to set up!
Dollars and sense
Airtable is built on the “freemium” model, which means that it is FREEEEE!!! (yes, really!) for the first 1,200 records in your Base. Each row in each tab counts against that limit, so if you can hypothetically reach that limit pretty quickly (if you have 200 contacts and 5 gifts each, you would be up to 1,200). After the threshold, the price goes up to $10/month, which is a steal (in my opinion) given the utility of the tool. Plus, it only took me about 5 minutes to set up this whole demo system!
The biggest time investment you would have to make is translating your Excel into the Airtable format. There are ways to upload data and probably some tricks that we could work out together to get “over the hump” so to speak. I don’t think it would be too daunting, just a little elbow grease at first. From that point forward, it will be as smooth as margarine on warm challah!
Airtable is my favorite “bridge system” between spreadsheets and databases and I think it’s the perfect intervention to take your giving circle to the next level, without introducing a bunch of unnecessary complexity. I hope you give it a whirl, and if you do, please give us a report back! I know TDAA readers will be excited to hear how it goes.