Raiser’s Edge Tutorial: How to Use and Not Abuse Attributes

May 27, 2018

Definition of an Attribute: 1at•tri•bute

 noun ˈa-trə-ˌbyüt

—a usually good quality or feature that someone or something has

The Raiser’s Edge is a powerful fundraising tool used by a variety of nonprofit organizations to manage their constituents. There is some data that is tracked by all organizations, such as names and addresses, but there is also other information that is often quite specific to each organization.

One way that organizations can manage specific information about their constituents is through the Attributes tab, since attributes can be customized (almost endlessly) to meet an organization’s needs. You should aim to use attributes for truly unique characteristics that your organization wishes to track.

Attributes are created and defined in RE: Configuration. Generally, you would want to set up broad Categories (Ex: Interests), and then create Descriptions (such as Gardening, Boating, or Gourmet Cooking), to further define the data you are tracking.

You have quite a few choices for how the Descriptions can be formatted. Your decision to use one of these formats over another depends on what kind of information you plan to track in the attribute.

Your options are:

  • A drop‐down table: You specify a set list of values, which can make querying and reporting cleaner. You must manage the table that goes with the attribute so you don’t get duplicate values and junk entries.
  • A full date field: You must provide day, month, and year.
  • A “fuzzy” date field: You may only provide month and year, or day and month.
  • A numeric field: 1, 2, 3, etc. Note: You cannot put a decimal in this one.
  • A Yes/No field: Fantastic for very simple things.
  • A currency field
  • A free-form text field: Anything goes. This can be great. This can be not so great when you want to report, or query, on the attribute…because anything goes.

Raiser’s Edge Attributes are available to use throughout the software. You can query a group of constituents together based on a shared common attribute. You can include or exclude constituents from a mailing or report using attributes.

They are not only flexible and versatile, but they can also be easy to maintain. You can globally add, edit, or delete, attributes from a group of records, and you can import attributes, too.

Attribute Abuse in Raiser’s Edge

Beware of the dark side – attribute abuse.

Attribute abuse come in many forms: Tracking everything you learn about your constituents, tracking things in attributes that already have a designated place to be stored on the RE record, and having too many narrow categories instead of having broad categories with many descriptions under them, to name just a few.

Here are examples of each of these crimes against attributes:

  • Detail Hoarding: Just because you can track every tiny detail about your constituents, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Do you truly need to keep a record of the shoe size of everyone running in your annual 5k? Probably not, unless you supply the running shoes. Before you decide to track a data point, take some time to consider how you’ll actually leverage it later, and what value it has in terms of furthering your mission. I know – this one is really tempting because RE allows you to store so! much! stuff! Be strong.
  • There’s no place like home: Before creating a new attribute, double check to be sure there isn’t already a field designated for that specific data, or simply a better place for it, on the RE record. Why create an “Ethnicity” attribute when there is an “Ethnicity” field on the Bio2 tab of an Individual record? If you have a unique ID from another database, such as a “Sphere Supporter ID”, why not use the “Alias” button (Bio1 tab) to record this value, instead? The ID is more easily queried and exported, and it can be used for matching records when you import data using ImportOmatic, if you store it as an Alias.
  • Blaze your own trail: Were you aware you can rename a large number of the fields in RE so they display as something other than what Blackbaud originally labeled them? In RE:Configuration->Fields you can choose a field you are currently not utilizing and re-purpose it to store something useful to your organization. For example, look at some of the fields on the Bio 2 tab. A commonly re-purposed field is “Religion.” You could store t-shirt sizes here, as an example. This field has the benefit of being table-driven, so you easily can control what values get stored here. Before re-purposing what you believe is an unused field, double check by searching via RE:Query. Create a constituent query where the only criteria is the field you want to re-purpose “is not blank”, and see what comes back. If there are records that contain data in the field, you can remove the data from the records, move the data to another place on the records, or choose another field if the current data is valid.
  • Too many head chefs, not enough line cooks: You currently have yes/no attributes for each of football, golf, softball, bocce, martial arts, and kickball. You should have a single, table-based, attribute of “Sports Interests” with table entries of football, golf, softball, bocce, martial arts, and kickball.

If your database has fallen prey to attribute abuse, you can use ImportOmatic (IOM) to help clean up your constituent attributes. You probably know IOM has the ability to add and update attributes, but did you know that it can also remove constituent attributes?

If you study the Record Type fields surrounding Constituent Attributes, you might notice an unexpected option in the list, called “Constituent Attribute – remove.” This option maps like the date and comments parts of importing attributes – you always need a ‘parent’ field, like Description, to link the parts of the attribute together.

In the profile field map, the Value Type will be the link to the attribute you wish to remove. This feature allows you to simultaneously add/update attributes, while also removing a different attribute. Remember that regular evaluation, and subsequent clean-up, of your attributes is an important part of maintaining your overall database health.

Try doing that with RE:Import alone!
Raiser's Edge Attributes Best Practices
Attributes are flexible custom fields that can help your organization store special qualities, characteristics, and preferences you associate with your constituents.

If used properly, they can help quickly locate records through query, improve reporting, and arm your major gift officers with details that could help them tap into a prospect’s interests and affinity, paving the way for a long and prosperous mutual relationship between that supporter and your organization. Now, if only I could find my keys…

To check out more Raiser’s Edge Tutorial content, be sure to read these other helpful posts:
Allison Bolduc
Allison Bolduc is a Consultant for Omatic Software in the Professional Services department. She currently assists clients in implementing, learning, and maximizing their use of Omatic products. Previous to holding her current position at Omatic Software, Allison worked for seven years in the nonprofit world as an Associate Director of Development at the Charleston Animal Society and as a Membership Coordinator at the Gibbes Museum of Art. In these roles, Allison gained real-life practical experience working with the Raiser’s Edge 7 (both as a non-hosted and hosted client), Blackbaud NetCommunity and Sphere Friends Asking Friends. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from the College of Charleston and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.