Marketing & Communications Centre > Marketing Essentials > Help Sheets > What is a Database?

What is a Database?

A database is one of the most crucial tools that any community group or organisation can have.

The successful recording, storing and organisation of data on your group's members, donors, volunteers, fundraisers, supporters, stakeholders, associates and anyone else connected to you, can make the difference between a healthy community group which communicates well with its contacts and one which struggles to stay in touch with any level of effectiveness.

There are a number of similar definitions of what a database is, with many emphasising the need for it to be an organised collection of information or data.

Some definitions narrow it to being "related information", while others mention the need for the database to be "stored on computer".

However, a database does not necessarily have to be stored electronically, even though that is the most favoured and easiest to operate methods. A database can in fact be as simple as a card file containing contacts' details in alphabetical order.

What is important about any good database is for it to be organised in some way.

It is no use taking the time and trouble to gather and record the data if it is so disorganised that your group can't find it or utilise it when the time is right.

Why is a Database so Important?

It can be said that an organisation or community group lives or dies by its database.

The information in your database – the names, addresses, contact details, personal details, etc, is your line of communication to your contacts and those who have been in touch with your organisation.

It keeps you in touch with those people, allows you to build relationships and talk to them on a one-to-one level about your group, what it is doing, what is planned and how they can help or be involved.

In short, it is a personal phone directory listing the details of your group's "nearest and dearest" – your contacts – in an organised and easily accessible way.

Having no database is like cutting that communication line – you lose touch with your contacts, you can't keep them informed or ask for their help or support when you need it. You don't want to continually 'reinvent the wheel', trying to re-attract people when they should never have been lost to your group in the first place.

Because so many people move house or business address each year, your database has to be an ever-evolving document to make sure your group's communication line stays open and operational.

What sort of Database Should you Have?

Your group needs to be able to use its database for all sorts of reasons – for example, to look for contacts' details, their past contact with your group or their status within your group.

Because of the multiple applications your database will be used for, the most practical solution for your group is to have a single database with a number of different categories – each able to be sorted, shuffled and sifted so you can find the information you want.

Databases stored on computer achieve this task easily and most importantly, quickly. Information on the database can be sorted by each category of information (or field) it may contain so your group can easily target certain sections of your contact list.

For example - does your sporting club want to contact people who have not purchased memberships in more than two years? By putting a category such as last year financial etc in your database, the names and details of those people can be quickly and easily found.

Computer-based databases can be quickly updated and used for mail merging and printing address labels for your direct mail envelopes.

Databases, Groups and Direct mail

What can a good database do for your group?

A good database can help your community group:
  • Communicate more effectively with your contacts.
  • Provide better contact response and feedback.
  • Help you grow in size and strength.
  • Provide more exposure for your group and its activities.
  • Attract more donations, and run more successful fundraising functions.
  • Better pitch your group to your target audience, or to new audiences.
  • Elicit a response from the wider public.

What does a good database do when it comes to direct mailing?

A good database can also give direct mailers some important abilities:
  • The ability to profile contacts,
  • The ability to segment information, and
  • The ability to then analyse the results of profiling and segmentation.

This analysis can help your group identify different groups of contacts, track their behaviour and response records over time and see which, if any, direct mail communications have generated the best results.

For example, if a certain mail-out calling for donations attracted a record number of responses and money raised, you can see who responded and then profile those who did so to find out any common attributes they may have. Following that, your group could then segment this section of your contacts list and target them with future direct mail-outs.

What Information do you Need?

The help sheet Creating lists – What Information do you Need provides a good rundown on the categories of data your group or organisation can look to gather.

There are two levels of information you need to have on your database – the basic or introductory information, and then the more detailed or group-specific information.

That basic information includes:
  • Name.
  • Correct postal/residential address details.
  • Contact telephone number (home or mobile).
  • E-mail address (if they have one).
  • Age/date of birth.
  • Gender.
  • Occupation (possibly).

The more detailed information – which your group could eventually gain through the use of a questionnaire or other device would include:
  • Occupation (if you haven't asked already).
  • Personal data (children, hobbies, interests, etc.).
  • How they would like to receive your publications, newsletters or information (email or post?)
  • Payment or donation preferences – possibly ask if they are willing to donate, and also, if so, how the best method would be.
  • Fundraising information – if they are willing to take part in your group's fundraisers.
  • If they are a member, donor, volunteer or supporter of any groups/organisations similar to yours – this can provide a handy snapshot of your competition.
  • How they heard about your organisation – this can help to work out which methods of communication are working for your group.
Simply put, every time someone on your database contacts you or is involved in a group activity, that contact should be entered in your database.

Evolving Databases

It is vital to remember that databases are not meant to sit idle; they are growing, 'living', evolving documents that are meant to change, be updated and progress over time.

It is also vital to remember that a database is a resource that should be protected and treated with respect. Remember to comply with the relevant privacy laws, as well as ensuring your database is "backed up" and safe from permanent deletion.

The help sheets in the Mailing and Database Management section of the Media & Marketing Centre outline how to create, build, maintain, expand, manage and even buy access to lists. Each has a wealth of information that can help your group get the most out of its database and direct mail list.

The information contained on this site is subject to change. Our Community will not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever coming from reliance placed on all or part of its contents.