And for “Failing any other option”!
Several places in the Raiser’s Edge allow you to enter anything you want without the limitations of a drop-down of pre-selected values.
“YAY!!! Wonderful! Free text “frees” me to put what I want to say in database, not what some crabby database administrator thinks I should want to say!
I don’t even have to ask permission or have any special “rights”!! I can put my information in the way it should be!”
Would that it were that simple, little lambs. Admittedly, they are occasionally useful, but the potential danger is rampant with free text fields
- Freedom isn’t free
First, let’s talk about what a free text field is in the Raiser’s Edge. A free text field is a field that allows you to simply click into it with your cursor and begin typing-there’s no drop-down, no calendar or look-up function. Generally speaking, if you see a little magnifying glass in the right hand edge of a field, then it’s a free text field. The most commonly used, misused and abused free text fields are the Reference field on the Gift tab of a Gift record and Attributes for all types of records.
Secondly, let’s talk about why they are so dangerous and should only be used “failing all other options”. Suppose you want to track your board members’ committee assignment as a Constituent attribute. I refer to the Development Committee as the, well, Development Committee. You, on the other hand, prefer Advancement Committee. Even if we agree on the verbiage, I’m a real all thumbs person when it comes to data entry and accidentally enter Develpment Committee. Now we have a problem! What could have been useful, meaning information is now useles clutter.
What are the risks?
- Data entry errors
- Difficulty in querying (i.e. grouping or reporting)
- Tracking information in the wrong place
See why I say F is also for “Failing any other option”?