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What Doesn't Kill Us

Five Signs Your Nonprofit’s Database Isn’t Keeping Up

Nonprofits are in the business of making change. And sometimes that change is happening right within your own organization — in how you do your work, manage your projects, take care of your data, and more. So often, this internal change is the kind that growing nonprofits have the least time and resources to anticipate. As you do your good work in your community, what are some signs that your nonprofit database is keeping up, or not? How do you make sure your technology is growing and changing as your mission does?

This is one of the many reasons we believe that databases are more than a one-time project. A database isn’t just a tool implemented once — like a good relationship, it needs care and attention so you can continue to rely on it. Here are five signs it might be time to devote some fresh attention to your database and how it’s working for your organization. Think of it as spring cleaning for your technology!

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August Webinar Announced – Cleaning Up Messy Data with Demand Tools

We had a great turn out for yesterday’s webinar! Thanks to all who participated. Our next webinar in the Salesforce DIY for Nonprofits series is Cleaning Up Messy Data with Demand Tools on August 14. 

Whether your data comes from multiple sources, frequent imports, or manually entered additions, there is always a chance that duplicate records will be created. Do you have concerns about how to clean up duplicates in your Salesforce instance? The Salesforce AppExchange offers several duplicate merging tools, of which the most powerful is Demand Tools from CRM Fusion.

This interactive session will coach you in how to use Single Table Dedupe feature of Demand Tools to identify and merge duplicate records, using live data as an example. You could also be guided through the merging process in your own instance during the session (by prior arrangement).

This webinar will be co-guided by Ashima Saigal, Founder of Database Sherpa and Caroline Renard. Ashima is both a Salesforce Certified Administrator and Salesforce Certified Developer. Caroline is Salesforce Certified Administrator as well as a Salesforce MVP.

Click here for registration information.


Thoughts from a Research Journey with Database Sherpa

A guest blog post by Emily Gremel, Researcher and Strategist

I met Ashima last fall when I led a marketing research workshop for some entrepreneurs she was coaching. Sharing the benefits and values of my field has always been important to me, so I leapt at the chance to share my “gospel” with some blossoming business owners. Little did I know where that workshop would lead…

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Until We Meet Again

Until We Meet Again…

Postponing an adventure while in the midst of the journey can be a decision fraught with uncertainty. Recently, a client and I arrived at the mutual conclusion that it wasn’t the right time for their organization to continue their journey. It was a difficult decision to make, but the organization is going through a major transition and the team members are struggling with the changes.

As a Sherpa, I sensed something was going on, but couldn’t put my finger on it. The “somethings” included:

  • Removing individuals from the journey
  • Lack of response via email and phone
  • Lack of knowledge within the organization regarding the activities of each other
  • Failure to complete practice to be done between treks
  • Cancelling scheduled meetings
Back in my controlling days, I would have been quite upset at this disruption of my life. And to be frank, I got a little angry when I didn’t receive a call or email cancelling a meeting.

But very soon I realized that that everyone in the organization was undergoing something very challenging and tough – the dreaded “R” word: Reorganization. My Sherpa-sense was tingling as I intuited that things might get challenging. So, I began to prepare myself mentally for the unknown that lay ahead.

As a Sherpa, my job is to help the journey continue, even when it is stalled. I reminded them to contact me to reschedule meetings when needed. I encouraged them to work on their internal issues before seeing me, so that they could better communicate with each other as well as with me. And above all, I tried to help them deal with the changes they were experiencing as we continued to build the database.

Yet with all my encouragement, accommodation and support, an overwhelming sense of dread permeated every conversation. So at the start of our last trek, I let them talk about their progress – and everyone reported that they were behind. Very, very behind. I even heard, “I’m so behind that I don’t even want to think about it. I haven’t done anything with this project.” That was my cue to gently guide them away from this journey for the time being and let them work out their internal changes.

So, while each expressed that they felt torn, and their collective belief that the database they were creating would relieve the pressure they were feeling, they also realized that they didn’t have the time or energy to devote to the journey. As we talked, we came to a collective understanding that although they are eager to learn and grow, it would be best to put the journey on hold for a few months.

At the end of our conversation, I sensed a collective sign of relief, like an out breath after you’ve been holding your breath for a while. It made my heart lighter. The journey hasn’t been cancelled, merely rescheduled.
just say no

Just Say No

As the mother of a rambunctious toddler, I have had to tell Zola “no” on more than one occasion. Even the most perfect of children has to hear that word, usually for their own protection.

I’ve also had to tell a potential client “no.” And then I wonder if I was crazy for turning down an opportunity to gain new business. I’ve yet to become independently wealthy, so, like any growing business, Database Sherpa needs new clients to survive and thrive.

Yet I have come to realize that saying “no” is as important as saying “yes,” and here’s why. At Database Sherpa we believe that the key to clients understanding their database is to be actively involvement in its creation. By rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty (figuratively, of course, unless you count messy toner cartridges), clients will learn more about the nitty-gritty of their database. Why is this important? By digging into their data with us, clients will have a greater understanding of the components of a successful database, and will be able to modify and expand it with very little help or guidance. This is one of the guiding principles of Database Sherpa: Walking with a client, then letting them continue their journey on their own.

On two separate occasions, a potential client has asked for our help—but told us that they couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to work along side us when creating their database. Instead, they wanted me to do their work, reducing me from a Sherpa to a kuli (in Hindi or a porter) carrying their luggage.

Did I deviate from my principles? No. In the kindest and gentlest ways, I said I wouldn’t be able to help them at this time, but if they found that their needs have changed and that they want to delve deeper into their data, to give me a call.

Do I need new clients? Of course, but not to the point of sacrificing my values. I know that potential clients who are willing to walk with me are out there. I know that this business will grow organically, and I know that word-of-mouth from happy clients, rather than compromise will make that happen.

Will I continue to say “no”?


tech devices


April, my wonderful Mindfulness coach, suggested I read “Wisdom 2.0“. It’s funny, because while I was going in the marketing work with DVQ Studio, Emily, my other wisdom coach, suggested that I attend the Wisdom 2.0 conference. So, when I hear things more than once, I think that the universe is trying to tell me something.

I’m still in the midst of reading this short book (which is jam packed with great ideas and suggestions), but I wanted to share my thoughts with you on what I’ve read and learned thus far.

Fact: Technology is here to stay. For better or worse, the Internet, computers, cell phones, tablet computers, etc., are not going away. According to the author (and in my own opinion) that in itself isn’t the problem. The challenge is to be more mindful when interacting with it. (Who among us hasn’t lost track of time playing a game online, on the computer, or on a phone?)

Here are my technology-mindlessness confessions. One recent, and the other several years ago.

Remember The Sims (pre-online game)? I was a Sims junkie. I played for HOURS, getting my Sims to be happy and keeping them on track for their jobs (insert irony), etc. When I played, I was oblivious to everything else: my physical upkeep, my friends, and my family. Sims players know you can tell a Sims’ mood by the color of the gauge above their head. I began looking for color indicators above the heads of actual people! I began to fantasize that I could change my friends’ and family’s behavior with a mouse click, just like the Sims.

Somehow my brain had melded my real world and my virtual world—and that scared me. I thought of gaming tools when I had to find a real-world solution to a situation. It was remarkable—and also crazy.

Like a smoker who finally acknowledges cigarettes are an addiction, I knew I had a Sims problem. And I knew I couldn’t quit cold turkey. I had to wean myself off, so I began to play with in a very mindful way. My brain knew what it was going to do before I began to play. I would say out loud to David, “I am going to go play The Sims now. I’ll catch you for dinner in about an hour.” To which he would reply, “Ok, we’ll see!” Then, I would go play with a timer set for one hour.

Before my mindfulness, when I started to get too caught up in the game, I noticed my breath slowed down a lot … nearly stopping at times. My shoulders would hunch over and I’d almost meld with my computer.

After mindfulness, if I sensed the melding point was imminent, I’d look away from the computer and gaze at a picture or an object on my desk. Then I’d take a deep breath and resume the game.

Mindful play allowed me to hear the alarm. (Yes, it took multiple trials before I could actually hear the alarm and walk away.) Sometimes I’d leave for an hour and then come back to see what my Sims had done in my absence (there was an auto-play session), and I’d feel compelled to “fix” all the problems that came up for my Sims. But, one day, I found myself coming back less and less. Reality became more and more interesting. While I still wished people walked around with a gauge over their heads, I began to notice that it bugged me more that my Sims were so easy to manipulate. That knowing their moods from a gauge wasn’t nearly as fun as seeing the expression on a person’s face (although, when a Sim gets really upset, it shows on their face). Or hearing a sentence in English rather than Sim language (it was a strange language).

All this to say that while the game was fun; real life was really more fun and more compelling. And, I haven’t played Sims once in 2012.

My second story is much more recent. I’ve begun to take walks after I drop Zola off at school. It’s a way for me to connect with myself and, in a sense, reboot my morning.

The other day while walking, I was entirely attached to my cell phone. Sending text. Writing emails. Updating and reading Facebook. For about half my walk, I was entirely in my phone. Not aware of anything but the sidewalk underneath my phone. I noticed my pace began to get slower, my breath began to get faster, my body began to feel less and less attached to my head and my eyes felt funny (like they were attached to someone else). It’s like I wasn’t me at that moment. I stopped, looked away from the phone. I slowly placed it back into my pocket and began to mindfully walk.

I began with a slow pace, staring down at the ground that seemed to be moving. Then, I looked up to the beautiful blue sky, which also looked to be moving. You know how it feels when you’ve been on a long train or boat ride? Well, that’s how I felt—very disconnected to the world around me. Really, the same feeling I had with the Sims game, only it wasn’t about clicking people, it was about the environment that surrounded me.

After about 10 minutes, my brain adjusted and my body felt normal again. I picked up the pace and kept walking, focusing on each step, on each breath and on each moment as it happened, knowing that the messages on my phone would be waiting for me on the other side of this walk. I completed the walk with a clear and refreshed mind and when I got back to the car, I went to my phone and answered the messages waiting for me. On my terms. At my time.

Although both stories are about technology, it’s not the problem. The problem was how I interacted with the technology. Was I controlling it, or was it controlling me? We must remember, technology was developed and created to make our lives easier. We are its masters, it is the servant. When the servant becomes the master (cue the Depeche Mode song), we run into problems.

What do the Sims and my morning walk have to do with Database Sherpa and specifically, databases? Technology. Remember in the old days when we had to collect information or addresses and names in a hand written format? Technology has streamlined the process, but it can also cause stress, as we try to master the database.

At Database Sherpa, our goal is to put you in the driver’s seat. You are less stressful because you are the master; you drive the intention of the database and build it to be what it needs to be. Then walk away. No more and no less.

An effective database will not overtake your every waking moment (like the Sims or my cell phone). An effective database, just like our minds, should be fully present in this moment. And as its master, we remain separate, mindful of time spent with technology. On our terms.


Managing with Mindfulness

In late October I enrolled in a mindfulness program offered through the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness  The exact name is “Mindful Based Stress Reduction”, but I prefer to simply call it “mindfulness program” because the it offers so much more than stress reduction — it’s a guide to listening to my authentic self and being in touch with me as we are guided through several mindful practices.Just like the assignments I give to my Database Sherpa clients, my classmates and I are assigned “practices.” (I know several people call them “homework” but I prefer “practices”). We practice various mindfulness techniques in our own environments so we can hone our skills. I’m halfway through the program and my mindfulness haven has become, of all places, my car, where I practice seated meditation. During my car practices, the voice of April Hadley (my instructor) begins to talk to me, and my body responds. There has been an unintended consequence to this: I’m a better driver. I drive slower. I’m more aware of my surroundings. I am quiet. No radio, instead the sounds of traffic and the wheels on the road.

And I’m not the only one following an ancient practice in a modern environment. Zola has been in the car with me, and we have meditated together while waiting for Daddy at the dentist. The sweet sound of my daughter taking deeps breaths in the back of the car while I relax in the front is bliss. She manages the intro and the three-minute meditation (about eight minutes). Pretty darn good if you ask me.While I’ve been going through this program, I realized that I’ve been attempting to embed these mindfulness principles into the work of Database Sherpa. Being present and aware of the current state of emotions and well-being of my clients is important, yet I was not giving my clients the tools necessary to handle stress long after I have departed. Although I build confidence, stress will occur regardless.

Then, an opportunity presented itself. A client asked me when we might discuss and act on some yoga techniques that were not in our original plans. (They were pretty sure that I was going to do it — they just wondered when it was going to happen.)At the time, she and her co-worker were working on their annual appeal campaign (and those in the nonprofit sector know the stress that can bring). So, I explained a technique called Lion’s Breath to them (thanks to a wonderful suggestion from my Sherpa partner, Veronica Beck), and sent them a YouTube video of various people doing Lion’s Breath. A few weeks passed before our next trek. When we connected, I asked them, how it made them feel.Only one had done it and it had relieved her stress. On the other hand, her co-worker had not, and had been suffering from headaches so bad that she had to take time off from work. We both recommended she try it — I know it’s one of my favorite stress-relieving practices. (And we all joked about practicing Lion’s Breath at their next staff meeting. It would be a hoot to watch!)

So, while I am embedding compassion, kindness, database development skills into Database Sherpa, I also need to provide my clients with coping skills. Providing them tools and techniques that they can use on their own to deal with the changes that will come with their new database system. Yet another refinement of the Sherpa process, for which I am grateful to my mindfulness teacher, April Hadley.


Maria Montessori and Database Sherpa

My husband, David, and I have had long dialogue about what type of education we should provide our daughter Zola. Would it be a traditional public school, private, boarding, etc.? Although we are both products of the public school system, we wanted to be conscientious in making a decision for our daughter.

I started by learning about many education methods, and the one that stuck with me throughout all my readings was the world of Montessori. I found myself drawn to the methods that Maria Montessori put forth and was fascinated by the ideas and concepts she presented. First and foremost, they fit well with our parenting style, so the decision has been made to send Zola to a Montessori school.

Now, what does this have to do with Database Sherpa?

While I was reading this as a parent, I also found myself excited by her methods as a Sherpa. What appealed most to me was the fact that children cannot and shouldn’t rely on an adult to solve problems or resolve conflict for them.

WOW, isn’t that the truth? I have to resolve all my own conflict in life. Not my mom. Not my dad. Not my grandparents. ME! So, why not start children learning this at a young age? Seems perfectly logical to me.

When it comes to databases, somehow, we believe we can have someone else do the work for us. That we can just turn everything over to someone else for him or her to do. While there are many consultants that are fantastic at building databases for organizations, it’s still not quite as thrilling as doing it yourself. It’s a core value of Database Sherpa to help organizations help themselves.

Another interesting value of Montessori is the belief that through mistakes and failure, learning takes place. A child may work hard at spelling their name or a word, but the key is that they are working. They may fail 10 times over, BUT, when they do figure it out, the joy is palpable. This is another core value at Database Sherpa, encouraging failure in our clients to gain knowledge and understanding. This is crucial to success of database development.

Active participation is important as well. Montessori believed children should and could dress themselves, make decisions for themselves, and act appropriately with little guidance. This participation with active guidance provides a wonderful learning environment. One that is safe, nurturing and compassionate.

I find it very interesting that I am drawn to these “beliefs” not only in my personal life but also in my professional life. It makes me very happy that I can have these halves of my life blend so well.

breaking your rules

When you make the rules, it’s okay to break them.

I don’t live by the rules, but I do live by the process. And rules are part of the process. I think processes are important (unless following them gets me stuck in my thinking.)

That is, until I came upon my latest Sherpa project.

Let me set the stage and explain a couple “process rules” we have at Database Sherpa:

  • A client cannot be in crisis mode. Looming deadlines cannot cause undue stress on the individual taking the trek.
  • When we help organizations build a brand new database, we guide them through the learning process. We don’t build it for them.
  • We use the buddy system. We Sherpa at least two people in the organization to build their database.

Yep, I broke my rules. I helped a client who a) was in full-on crisis mode, b) was working with a fully built database created by someone else, and c) was the sole administrator of the database.

But ask my toddler Zola, and she will be the first to tell you (or show you) that rules are merely guidelines. So I said, “yes” to Lauren of the  Women’s Resource Center in San Diego. Lauren is in a new position within the organization. Although she’s been there for 5 years, this role is only 1-1/2 years old.

Women’s Resource Center was using Donor Perfect, but a board member recommended a switch to Lauren agreed. Unfortunately, Lauren was not involved in the creation of the database. Although she was involved in the importing process, she wasn’t able to get her hands into the database and was left out of some critical decisions that needed to be made.

In order to help Lauren, I broke several of my own rules:

  • Lauren is the only user of the database. (I broke the “buddy rule.”)
  • She had an existing database. (I broke the “new” rule.)
  • She wasn’t involved in the creation of the database. (I broke the “guide them” rule.)
  • She felt overwhelmed by her lack of knowledge. (I broke the “crisis” rule.)

Why did I break my own rules? Lauren had a very specific task to accomplish without a lot of other distractions, and she was very enthusiastic about the prospect of learning.

When I first spoke to Lauren, she was quite overwhelmed and felt she was in over her head. She had also been told that the initial import hadn’t been done correctly and the data needed to be re-imported.

She gave me access to her existing database. (What an experience, to see the data already in there!) Spending time in her database, I realized that the data was imported quite well and only needed some minor tweaking. And on top of it, during the process I would have an opportunity to show Lauren some other important features that she was unaware of.

As she explained the situation, I assured her that the data had been imported “okay,” but needed a little tweaking. The relief in her voice was immediate! And during our first trek, she confided that after that first call, she had a good feeling about Database Sherpa. Her stress levels had decreased dramatically and she was excited to get into the database and learn on her own and with guidance.

I knew this journey would be shorter than my other journeys as it required me to only teach Lauren exactly what she needs to know right now. This allowed me to break my own rules.

Our first trek went great. Up to this point, we had not spent much time talking to each other or getting to know each other. I learned that what she really needed and wanted was to be guided through her existing database that she is needed to use.

As I was documenting our recent trek and preparing for our next trek, a thought popped to my mind: Database Sherpa is much more than just developing databases. It’s about building confidence and providing a unique level of support.

After our call, I knew Lauren would be practicing her new database skills. No, Lauren did not offload all of the work onto me. Instead, she now has a Sherpa who is coaching, guiding and helping her as she builds her skills and confidence. Our journey is just beginning.

Yes, rules are made to be broken. I’m excited to work with Lauren and the Women’s Resource Center of San Diego. Breaking the rules will not only help her, but will also help me strengthen and grow the processes at Database Sherpa.

Thank You!

Gifts of Gratitude Tour

This week we’ve kicked off our Gifts of Gratitude tour to build a community of Sherpas. This is a fun tour, where I get to have lunch, coffee, breakfast and chat with super cool individuals who have started to build their own communities.

So, what is this all about? Well, I’ll give you a taste, but if you’re want to learn more, you are going to have to have a conversation with me over coffee or tea.

At Database Sherpa, we recognize that many organizations fight with their database more than necessary. Others miss good information just because data is trapped in bad software or old spreadsheets. We are on a mission to help organizations find peace with their data.

We achieve this peace using a process unlike anything data management has seen before. We are more guide than taskmaster, more teacher than consultant. Our unique approach means we are building a community of people committed to compassionate database management. Together, we are proving that databases can have a heart!

We are looking for people to join us. Our journey to Database Sherpa is not paved with big marketing campaigns. It has always been sustained by people like you, who share our values, and more often than not, have experienced our approach firsthand. Together, you create a community of Sherpas by sharing the principles that guide your database practice and referring future clients.

If you want to learn more about how it works, please, get in touch with me at and I’ll be happy to have a conversation!