The following story, posted with permission, was sent to the FUNDSVCS list in response to a question about how to reign in schools and departments at a university that keep their own shadow databases of contacts. The response hit the nail on the head:
We started working on folding shadow databases into (Raiser's Edge, our central database) about 8 years ago. There are still quite a few of them out there, but we are slowly bringing them into the fold!
I have a story that we have used quite often:
A few years ago, we imported a shadow database into Raiser's Edge. The next year, they decided to run their Gala invites out of their old spreadsheet. They sent me the list some time later to add new records and appeal codes to RE. In the process, I discovered that they had mailed to 5 deceased people. The director asked me who these people were, and when I provided the names, she gasped and said that she had attended 3 of the funerals.
We in Advancement Services handle data for a living and understand the importance of updates and keeping the database clean. We get updates and information from multiple sources which can only benefit the departments who use our system. We do NCOA, wealth and deceased screenings. We do phone and email appends. We get Google alerts. We track those who do not wish to be contacted either by mail, phone, email or not at all. All of these things and more help to keep our records up to date and give them better information and more time to fundraise and friendraise.
Columbia College Chicago