I once read a database training manual. Really.

I had to do this because the bookkeeping office accidentally wiped out 25 years of records without backing up, about a month after I started the job, and before I was really familiar with the system. (Fortunately we had unassailable paper records–ALWAYS keep the paper records, but that’s another topic).

And yet I didn’t really get comfortable with that database until I took the training and had someone give me rules based on what I was seeing on the screen.

For your database protocols to be successful, they need to be written down, and they need to be easy to understand. A long list of rules is just going to result in rolling eyes and discarded paper. Make it easy for people to understand and follow, by using the format that you’ve already got–take what you’re seeing on the screen, and create a chart or matrix based on that.

To make up a simple matrix showing all your protocols (rules), use the X axis for the names of the fields, and the Y axis for instructions and notes. Have an instruction for every field–never assume everyone interprets the field “normally.” There is no normal. Make a rule.

Here’s a sample from an older system I worked on, that had multiple problems, including fields that were defaults on one screen, and open on others, no option for regular vacation homes, no option for adults living at home, or married people with different last names, etc.:

Every screen for a given record (there are about 7 of them in this system, including Main Record, Donor Record, Sales Record, Household–things like children, vacation, etc., and Business.) Organizational records also have their own protocols. This system had no capability to link records or do soft credits (don’t get me started–Executive Director’s comment was “well I know that stuff, so we don’t need it to be in the system”), so we had to create codes that would be entered in both records.

This is a fair amount of work. You will find places where you’ll need to change the protocols based on the boots on the ground. Every time you make a change, bring in the people who have entry permission for the database. (More about that in Part three: training)

The users manual will only get you so far, because it’s written for the program, not for your agency. Create a chart and then put it somewhere that people can find it, like the wall in front of their noses.