It’s Not All about the Database

As a staff, we’re feeling as though we aren’t doing a good job of communicating even though we now use more communications outlets than ever before.  But somehow a great new website, a monthly newsletter, a weekly enews blast, and a Facebook page are still not helping us help you.  So, we’re trying an additional outlet. 

This is the first edition of a “memo” to the lay leaders of the congregation.  It is being sent to all folks listed in the Leaders’ List as well as all leaders of Small Groups.   The plan is that this will come out 1 or 2 times per month, on an irregular schedule.  We want you to respond when you feel so moved.  Sometimes we, as staff, feel as though we are operating in a vacuum, despite the fact that our only reason for being here is to help the congregation become what it wants to be.  So, if there is something in this edition that sparks a suggestion or response, go ahead and send it.  We are happy to hear from our leaders! 

Unless otherwise noted, these news memos are written by Linda Topp.

As a leader of a small group or a committee you have learned that the office staff is trying to keep track of the participants in your group.  We keep saying that we need the information for our database.  “But why?” you ask.  Here’s the story.

Three years ago the members of the Board of Trustees were trying to determine who exactly at UUCA are active participants in the life of the congregation.  We certainly don’t take attendance on Sunday mornings and aside from knowing which people are paying on their annual commitments, we could not say whether 50 or 500 people were actively engaged in adult RE programs, small groups, choir, committees or anything else.

So, the Board allocated $25,000 to establish a fund called “Technology Upgrade” which would give the congregation the capability to identify and track participation.  The Board charged the Executive with coming up with a way of answering the question, “How many UUCA members and friends are actively participating?”  Using the funding allocated by the Board, we purchased additional software and training in order to enhance the database system we were already using to track membership status and giving history.

We now have an upgraded database (you know it as MY INFO) but that is only half the picture.  Without leaders letting us know who their active participants are, we still have no idea if we are serving 50 or 500 different people.

The database has other cool features, too.  We have the capability right now to have an online photo directory.  All we need is for individuals or families to upload their own photos into their own record in MY INFO.  When we need to recruit people for special projects, we can search on various interests or skills fields to find folks.  But of course, we need to input these interests and skills into the database first, and we haven’t even tried to make that happen because of the resistance we are getting for all things computer-related.

So, here are some of the questions that the staff is mulling:

  • Is there another way to find the answer to the question, “How many UUCA members and friends are actively participating in the life of the congregation?”  Or, how can we get our leaders to input data to track participation in their groups?
  • “Attendance” isn’t exactly what we are tracking, so is there some other way to find out who is “active” in any group or committee and if there is, how could we enter that in our database?  (We don’t want our computer program to dictate how we do things, but if we can’t figure out how to capture and sort data that we’ve collected, it doesn’t really help us.)
  • Is “number of people actively participating” even an important question?  (I think so because without that sort of feedback we don’t know where to best allocate our resources—but I could be wrong.)
  • Why are many congregants so resistant (or oblivious?) to using MY INFO?  For building a database of interests and skills, instead of asking people to use MY INFO, what if we asked members/friends to fill out either online or paper forms similar to those that new members fill out and have volunteers input the data?  Could we find volunteers to do that?  Are people resistant to the computer, to the MY INFO user interface, or to the idea of being “tracked?”
  • How can we find volunteers to take photos and upload them to the database instead of asking individual members to do it themselves?  Seems like having a photo directory would be incredibly useful to more people than me!