So, you have a policy, a rationale, and a tool.

How do you get people to use it? No number of protocols, tools, or rules will get you a clean, consistent database without buy-in from the people using it. And the key is training and support.

Start at the top
First of all, leadership MUST be supportive of the effort. If your Executive Director thinks it’s bullshit, no one will use it. This is especially true in a small shop where the ED has daily contact with everyone in the organization, but it also applies to larger shops. The deeper up the hierarchy support for this goes, the more successful it will be.  I highly recommend bringing in a consultant to talk about the benefits of having a system of rules, because somehow when the board and upper management hears if from a consultant they tend to believe it more. (This is what pays my rent.) A consultant can also set up your protocols for you, point out deficits or strengths of your system (since they’re likely to have familiarity with multiple systems) and spot problem areas.

No one gets out of the training
Every single person with anything above Read Only permission on the database must do the training, from the seasonal box office staff to the Executive Director. Training should start with basic uses, capabilities, and benefits of relational databases (as opposed to linear ones, like a spread sheet), as well as pitfalls to watch for (misspellings, inconsistent abbreviating, etc.). Follow this with specific training in the system at hand (even for people who say they “know it.”) Understanding of the system, specific examples of what a clean, well managed system can do, and examples of problem areas including the negative effects of these is key to getting people to buy in.

Do the training when you need it
Regular employees get trained before they get administrative permission. Have retraining sessions once a year or more and give staff input into tweaks of the protocols. Seasonal employees who need entry permission (for instance holiday sales staff or box office staff) need to redo the training every time.

Treat your trainees like donors.
This means praise, thanks, and rewards.

Chances are that your trainees have either given up a regular work day (or half day) of “productive” work, or they’ve come in on a day off. Make sure it’s worth their while. Don’t stick them in a  dark room and make them look at a Power Point for 4 hours. Make it hands on, include plenty of breaks, and feed them. PAY THEM FOR THE TRAINING TIME, above and beyond their salaries, even if it’s on a regular work day. This can be based on their salary if you can afford it, or just a bonus for participating in the training. Give it to them then and there. (You heard me–hand them a check at the end of the day. Very Pavlovian).

Follow up with a thank you letter, which will include support info–phone numbers, location of the protocols at the office, etc. I’m not kidding.

I can’t afford that
Actually, what you can’t afford is a database that is sending out 20% duplications (both annoying and expensive), is missing No Mail flags, is calling Prof. Mary WorldFamous “Mrs John HusbandsName,” is sending letters to your most important donor, that come from the intern and start “Dear Mary.” Et cetera.

Having worked most of my career in the arts, I have seen again and again huge (and proper) investment in the artistic product, in new artistic technology, in increasing artists’ pay, in capital improvements, in new construction, you name it, while the administrative side gets left in the 1980s.  You must invest in your administration; they don’t call it “support” because it’s unnecessary. A bridge with old, rotten, deteriorating supports falls down. My suggestion is you do the same thing for this kind of project that you do for that cool new mic system–go to the angels on your board or among your high donors, and sell them on the need for this.

It isn’t sexy, but it’s every bit as important for meeting your issue’s goals as is what they misguidedly call “direct program expenses”.