The gift record in the Raiser’s Edge has a free text box on it called the Reference field. If I had my way, Blackbaud would add an option in Security to limit who can enter data in that field! If you follow my blog, you know my feelings in general about the evils of free text, and all of those feelings apply to this field as well.

Because this field is easily accessible, highly visible, and available as an optional column in many reports, users are often tempted to store information here that is better stored elsewhere, greatly castrating vital functionality in the system. Examples of information I’ve seen (and cleaned) wrongly stored in this field include:

  • Pledge installment information
  • Soft credit recipients
  • Tribute designations
  • Appeal/Event
  • Solicitor credit
  • Stock/Property details

The unintended consequences of holding this information in the Reference field instead of the fields designed especially for it are many. First of all, because it is a free text field (holding up to 255 characters), it has inherent problems including:

  • Lending itself to inconsistent data entry
  • Difficult to query
  • Impossible to report on

In addition, now other functions in the system that rely on this information being in a certain place are no longer accurate. Examples include:

  • Pledge reminders in Mail
  • Pledge Status/Past Due reports
  • Any gift reporting involving soft credits
  • Appeal Summary and Performance reports
  • Solicitor Performance reports
  • Honor/Memorial Acknowledgement Letters in Mail

I could go on and on about the pitfalls of this field! Often times, clients will tell me that they record the information there so that the business office can see it in reports. Well, first of all, I have strong feelings about the business office driving your development database, but okay, assuming you are willing to do that for them, at least promise me that you’ll also record it properly, where it is meant to live, so that the system can offer up the information in a meaningful, accurate, consistent way, as designed.

In general, if the system includes a specific field for a specific piece of information it’s there for a specific  reason! Be reasonable, be specific, and use it 🙂

Keeping you on the Leading Edge,