the advance of the current generation of spreadsheets and database
management tools it has become easier than ever to create database
management systems and upload data into them. Institutions need to be
aware of shadow databases and how to resolve their use.
Independent databases, or “orphan systems,” as they are sometimes called,
are among the most controversial and difficult to manage forms of data
Problems Caused by the use of
- Data synchronization between the main
system and the shadow system may not exist.
- Shadow databases can be used for
unauthorized mailings and solicitations, affinity marketing and other
asks and activities that may fall outside the scope of central policy
- They may not include vital information
regarding donor or gift anonymity that is recorded in a central system.
- The use and creation of shadow databases
does not promote the use or knowledge of a central system other than in
a generally negative concept.
- Shadow databases are not often
adequately secured or backed up. Institutions can be subject to exposure
if data is inadvertently released to non-authorized sources.
- Although users of shadow databases will
often make the claim that their data is more accurate, these databases
often lack the stringent data entry and control standards used in a
- Shadow databases will typically not be
subject to the same methods of data cleansing that the main
institutional database is such as postal standards and address
- They lead to disparate and conflicting
reports on items such as alumni counts, address statistics,
participation and other measures of advancement performance.
- Do not mail, do not solicit, and other
similar restriction and opt out codes are not likely to be included in
- Duplication of institutional resources
for data entry, database maintenance licensing fees.
On the flip side, shadow databases may also
have a number of benefits:
- They may contain useful data that the
central records staff may not have been aware of that can enhance the
central database once integrated.
- Staff maintaining the shadow database
may be useful as additional resources for data entry.
- These databases when discovered may
represent an opportunity to improve training, system functionality or
other aspects of services provided to constituents.
Although generally a problem, benefits can
often result depending on how shadow database issues are resolved.