If you’re a CARE-NG user and you’re anything like the CARE-NG users I talk to, you probably have some frustrations with the way it works. You may have some functionality that really needs to work differently, or even some new functionality to add. Perhaps you’re finding that the pace of change at your charity is quicker than the pace of change in CARE-NG, and the software is struggling to keep up.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer you a magic “fix it” button, but here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years that can help you get the best out of your CARE-NG system.

Understand your process

What do you do? And how do you do the things you do? You might think it’s obvious – after all, everybody seems to turn up and do their jobs every day so surely everyone knows what they’re doing, right? Well, yes – up to a point. But when did you last look at how things should work, compared to what people actually do? How many processes have had an extra step added – and then another, and another – so that they are now more complicated than they would be if you designed them from scratch? And how well are your processes – and the things people actually do – aligned to how CARE-NG works?

I bet there’s at least one work-around somewhere – everybody’s got one, and some charities have quite a few. Do you still need that work-around? Was it because you were waiting for a software patch that was actually delivered years ago, but no-one got round to going back and taking the work-around out of the process? Could a little development take away that daily irritation?

Do you write your process down? Do you train people on it? How do you manage changes to the process? And if you change the process, do you make sure the changes are managed in CARE-NG too? Or do you just casually mention the change to your DBA the Thursday before the new process comes in? (And if you do that, how are your DBA’s stress levels?)

If you understand your process, and you manage process changes and CARE-NG changes together (and don’t treat CARE-NG as an afterthought), you can start to close the gaps between what your process is, what your people do, and how CARE-NG functions.

Understand Your Data

Your data is a big asset – at least it should be. CARE-NG holds some crucial financial data (Direct Debit mandates, for instance, and Gift Aid declarations – as well as the transactions associated with them). It also holds all your marketing preferences (because you did do your GDPR preparation, didn’t you?) There will also be relationships, contact details and a whole host of other data – some specific to your particular way of doing things – which all help to keep your processes ticking over, and your income flowing in.

But if all of this is just a big pile of data, how do you make sense of it? Do you know how much of your income is coming in through Direct Debits? Or how much of your income is eligible for Gift Aid? Or whether you have eligible Gift Aid transactions that you haven’t actually claimed for? Look at your reporting, and whether it’s working for you. Some people use List Manager as a reporting tool, but it’s probably fair to say that it isn’t well-loved. For big charities, data cubes backed by SQL Analysis Services might be the way to go. Smaller charities might be more comfortable with a set of well-specified reports using a tool such as SQL Reporting Services. If you want a halfway-house between the two, with some flexibility without needing to build a whole Data Warehouse, then Power BI is becoming an increasingly popular tool.

Data hygiene is also important. The data is no use to you if it’s wrong, out-of-date, or you don’t have the necessary legal basis to process it. Think about it – how many contacts do you have in your database that you can’t actually use for any of your processes? Hundreds, thousands, millions? If you have no legal basis for processing this data, what are you keeping it for? Is it because it’s too much effort to delete it? Or maybe it’s because no-one wants to make the final decision to delete the data. Perhaps you’re keeping it “just-in-case”? But just-in-case what? There’s a radical change in the law? The data quality magically fixes itself? Forget it – unusable data isn’t an asset – it’s a liability; get rid of it.

Did you know you can use a Selection Set in CARE-NG to delete up to 32,767 contact (or organisation) records in one go? So actually, bulk-deleting isn’t that hard, once you’ve identified your candidates for deletion. A well-kept database is like a well-kept garden; as well as planting and feeding, it also needs regular pruning to keep it at its best. Get your digital secateurs out, and get chopping.

Train Your Staff

OK, I’m sure you do this. But you’d be surprised how many CARE-NG users have never been taught to use the system. It’s strange, because you wouldn’t get on a bus driven by an untrained driver, or have your boiler serviced by someone who doesn’t know their way around a heat exchanger. So why would you put one of your most important assets (your data) into completely untrained hands? Especially when mistakes can potentially cost you tens of thousands of pounds. Think of how expensive a Data Breach would be if you fell foul of GDPR.

If you’ve understood your process (see step one), then you should be able to write it down, and explain it to anyone whose job is to operate that process. And that’s all that training really is. If you think you can’t afford to train your staff, let me respectfully disagree – you can’t afford not to.

Integrate and Automate

Chances are CARE-NG isn’t the only system you have with a lot of data in it. Have you linked your website to CARE-NG to capture enquirers and donors as CARE-NG contacts? Are you still processing your BACS messages manually, or are you using CARE-NG’s built-in BACS message processing? What about your mailing selection / marketing system? Or your bulk-emailing system? These are all areas where manually processing, loading and updating can be time consuming, tedious and prone to error. Look at where the most time is being spent, and look at whether some simple integration could free up staff time to do other things that add more value.

Thinking back to your processes (step one again) – which ones are completely rule-based, and don’t require any human judgement or review? Those processes are prime candidates for automation, and again a little automation can free up a lot of time that could be used more productively. TaskCentre from Codeless Platforms (formerly Orbis) – also known as Advanced Task Manager – is an automation engine with a wide set of tools. It can be used for (among other things) SQL queries, Web Services / API integration, automated emails and PDF attachment generation. Other automation engines are also available, but whatever you use, look to automate high-volume, rule-based processes to get maximum benefit.

Get Help

You’ve got great staff, with a range of useful skills. But even then, you can’t know everything about everything. And time is precious, maybe you have a full schedule of work already, and just can’t fit in any new process improvement. Don’t forget – other charities have wrestled with the same problems, so talk to them, attend user groups and share ideas.

If you need a bit of extra specialist knowledge, or some additional time to put onto a project to help move it forward, it’s well worth considering bringing in some consultants to help. Look for specialists in the not-for-profit sector, with plenty of experience, who can really understand how you work, as well as how CARE-NG works.

Get in touch with MAST ICT

At MAST ICT, we have over 50 years collective experience with CARE-NG, and consultants who have worked in not-for-profit organisations who understand what it’s like to be where you are. We’ve helped lots of other charities get the most out of CARE-NG. To speak to one of our experienced consultants, you can contact MAST ICT or give us a call on +44 (0)1483 617228.

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