The Raiser's Edge Revealed: Tips for new users

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Ah, The Raiser’s Edge - that pillar of software that commands our fundraising lives. For most of us, the mere mention of it can send us into panic mode, triggering a grimace of frustration, anger or despair. Heralded for its ability to handle complex information, The Raiser’s Edge is a commonly used fundraising and donor management solution worldwide. So why do we have such a love-hate relationship with it?

The simple truth of the matter is that it takes longer than we realize to truly learn and master the program. And our sector is notoriously characterized by high turnover and the constant shifting of roles and duties. Rarely do charities have a dedicated database manager – whose sole responsibility is to run and maintain the system – nor do they have the time and resources to commit to ongoing user training. This is unsettling, considering how crucial The Raiser’s Edge is to the integrity and security of your information.

As a new user, it can be especially overwhelming to try and navigate all the complex layers of the program. As someone who has personally had to learn it from the ground up, and who has spent the last 10 years stumbling and weaving my way through the system prior to mastering it: I feel your pain. And I’m happy to pass on some key tips and shortcuts that have saved me multiple times over the years.

Challenge #1: I just can’t find what I’m looking for.

You know the information is in there...somewhere. But try as you might, you can’t seem to find it. New users who don’t yet know their database will have an especially hard time with this. The first challenge is always getting to know what is in your system in the first place; never mind pulling it out in an accurate, presentable way.

Here’s a tip: go to the Configuration tab and look at your Tables. A Table is present whenever you have one of those little drop-down menus in a record. Some tables are system-based (such as Gender, Receipt type and Gift type) but a lot of them are customized by your organization. So, if you can spend a couple of hours looking through all the tables (you can even print them out if you need to), you will start to see a basic pattern of information emerge. Make careful note of the Table name and the options found within each one. Then, open up a test constituent record and look for where those Tables exist. A lot of them are likely to be part of an Attribute, so if you go to your constituent’s Attributes tab, you can experiment with adding them and looking at your options from there. Just make sure your “testing” is wiped clean before you exit the record!

If you’re at the stage where you’re building queries to look for information, you can use the “Find” button to get the system to locate a field for you. The only caveat: you need to know the name of your field in order for this to work. And some fields exist in multiple places. But a lot of the time, this is a useful sleuthing tool.

Challenge #2: I’m not getting the right results from my query. And what’s up with all the duplicate rows?

Query is a notoriously difficult feature to master. The key is to have patience, and to be prepared for a lot of trial and error.

If you’re having trouble, here’s what you need to look for first: carefully check the criteria sequence that you’ve built. Remember that Query works a lot like a math equation, so the order of the criteria fields really does matter. When you’re building your criteria sequence, start with your most important criteria first. And did you know that you can use the brackets to group criteria sets together? If you remember your grade nine math class, it’s the same idea: the criteria between the brackets relate to each other, and the result from what is inside those brackets – as one element – will relate to the rest of your query. If you’ve never used the brackets before, don’t be afraid to experiment with it: it can sometimes make a crucial difference in the accuracy of your results.

If you’re getting duplicate results, look carefully at your output fields. Some output fields will cause your data to duplicate because they may exist more than once on your donor’s record. For example, if one of your output fields is Constituent Code, and your donor has two constituent codes on their record, the query will produce two rows for that donor: one for each constituent code.

If the issue is not with your output fields, you can click on Tools, Query Options and select “Suppress duplicate rows” to try and solve the problem. If your results are still duplicating, then there is something about the way you’ve set up your criteria that is causing it. You may not be able to work around this, so at that point you may want to try and use Export if you need to get your results out without duplication.

Challenge #3: Why are my query results different from my report results?

Query simply handles your data differently than Report does. As we’ve seen, Query can produce duplicate rows in certain situations, which may inflate your results. And where Query is just “retrieving” your data from the system, Reports are actually designed to analyze your data for you – and this is something that is happening in the background, depending on the type of Report you’ve chosen. Sometimes you can’t control the exact way this data is being analyzed.

Here’s a tip: try running both your Report and your Query using just one record, which may make it easier for you to find the source of the discrepancy. Preferably, you should choose a record with some complexity to it; for example, if you’re trying to run a Gift report, choose a donor with a lot of gifts on file. As you build your Report, you will realize that you end up adding a lot of customization to it as you go, so try to reproduce this in your Query as well. For example, if you’re running a Gift Report, check what’s happening on the Gift Types Tab. Are you filtering things that are not being filtered in your query? What are your soft credit and matching gift distributions? Are they being directed to the Donor, Recipient or Both? In Query, click on Tools, Query Options, Gift Processing to make sure that these options match the ones in your report. Also, pay attention to the way your Report is handling Pledge Payments. If you’re filtering out pledge amounts and only looking at pledge balances, make sure that in your Query, you’ve filtered out Pledges by Gift Type.

I hope that these insider tricks can help you avoid some common Raiser’s Edge challenges. As you navigate your system, try to relax, breathe and have patience. You won’t become an expert overnight. And remember, we’re all in this together.

Kathleen Pollard is a Raiser’s Edge trainer for Method Works Consulting’s online training program, which she also manages. She’s been a Raiser’s Edge trainer for the last decade, in which time she’s trained many users, of all levels and from varied sectors. To learn more, visit www.training.methodworksconsulting.com.

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