Angella Hubbert

QUICK SHOT: What Does a Data Geek Do for Fun?

As I was looking through a client’s gift file the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by a donor record. Not because the record had a mistake. Not because the record didn’t belong. But because I saw something curious.

Before I continue, here are two very important things you should know about me:

  1. I LOVE data – how unique it is, how powerful a simple piece of code can be.
  2. When I get curious, I become a tenacious detective.

So when this intriguing file flitted across my monitor, I became suddenly determined to learn everything I possibly could about a small piece of data next to the record and what it might be trying to tell me.

If you’re at all like me, you’ve also had the experience of seeing a flag on donor records and wondering what exactly it signifies. I’m happy to tell you that I’ve done a lot of sleuthing and have some answers on this for you.

Now just so we’re on the same page, let’s define what we’re talking about when we use the term “flag.” A flag is a special code that’s used to designate a group of donors’ classifications.

Flags can get confusing, and it’s easy to see why database users often give up on trying to interpret them. For example, the flag “Thx19” could indicate any of the following:

  1. This person should be sent the Thanksgiving October/November mailing.
  2. This person made a donation in response to that mailing.
  3. This person promised to make another major donation at this time and someone needs to call them.

YIKES! It’s enough to make a database dizzy!

Without a well-defined and documented set of database rules, flags tend to sprout like weeds.

Here’s the problem: While the person who originally added the flag undoubtedly knew exactly what it meant at the time, memories can become surprisingly and very quickly fuzzy. Even worse, all those flags add up – and soon, the original reason for the flag gets lost in translation.

My sleuthing on flags led me to come up with some best practices I can share now with you.


For example, if a donor requests to receive less mail from your organization, flagging them as “once/year donor” may be too restrictive and may depress their future giving. Which you definitely don’t want.


Marking a record as “do not mail” essentially eliminates the chance that you’ll ever receive another donation from this person again. I have a pretty extreme example to illustrate this point – recently, I heard about a company that was flagging their “do not email” records as “do not mail” records. But those should be two separate flags! Correcting this misunderstanding added 5,000 potential donors back into their mailing list who hadn’t been contacted in some time

A parting reminder: As workloads increase, it’s easy to convince yourself that there’s not enough time to clean up flags and document your database changes. Please resist this urge! Pull your list of flags today and consolidate the extraneous codes into a simple and easy flag. Your future self will thank you immensely, as will the person who takes over your database responsibilities in the future.

  • Angella Hubbert

    Angella Hubbert, Vice President, Data Services

    With 30 years of overall agency fundraising experience, Angella leads our Data Services Team with her knowledge of data intelligence and donor-centric insights. She’s had the pleasure of working with charitable organizations such as Rescue Missions, Food Banks, World Vision, Operation Smile, Salvation Army and Best Friends Animal Society. Angella also served on the Board of Governors for the International ECHO Awards. 

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