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Happy Valentine's Day! Showing The LOVE For User Defined Fields!

Happy Valentine's Day to all our eTapestry customers! It's been great to watch a lively discussion on community about User Defined Fields over the last few weeks. 
As the eTapestry Senior Consultant here at Blackbaud, I have seen people fall 'head over heels' for UDF's, while others may want to break up with some of their old fields! Now that I've got the bad Valentine's Day puns out of the way, here are a few quick tips on from working with customers to setup and clean up UDF's.

Before jumping in and creating a new field or user defind field category, ask yourself some basic questions:
  • What do I want to track?
  • What will I use it for?
  • Does the field already exist?
  • What kind of data type is it?
  • What kind of field will it be?
  • Where will I apply it? 
  • Will we be able to consistently populate it?
By asking yourself these questions, you can prevent some of the common mistakes we make when creating user defined fields. Here are the main culprits I see when I work with eTapestry customers:

Too many people can and have made UDF's. While it is great that you can create your own fields; too often too many people have access to creating User Defined Fields. And, it shows! I recommend that only 1 or 2 people have access to make fields. Its also a good idea to talk through adding fields as a group before building out a brand new category only to find that it is simliar to one you already had!

The fields are applied the wrong place or too many places. When we make a field we tend to apply it to too many places in the system. If you make a field called 'Favorite Valentine's Candy'  you really only need to apply that field to one place in the database. But often, I'll see that field on the account, journal, persona, relationship and other areas of a record. Most of the time, a field is only applied to 1, maybe 2 areas. Keep in mind, the field value doesnt automatically update itself. If you put Godiva on the UDF for Favorite Valentine's candy on the consituents defined field page, it doesnt update that if its also on the persona.

We have lots of fields but they are empty! This goes hand in hand with the first two. If many people make fields and put them all over the system, it becomes impossible to populate the fields effectively. Or, if we didn't think through why we wanted the fields before we made them, the database ends up cluttered. Or cluttered with fields containing no data. 

So, lets look at each part of creating a field to help us to avoid these common pitfalls. 

The Basics

When you start the New Defined Field process, you name it first. When you do this, be sure to give the field a unique name that accurately describes the information it will contain. Next, select the Data Type. This type determines the kind of data the field will track. We know we want to track the number of tickets being purchased, so we want to set the Data Type to Number. Review this list for information about other UDF data types.

Text. These UDFs accept any combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.

Date. These UDFs accept all dates in the mm/dd/yyyy format (North American locales) or dd/mm/yyyy (European locales).

Month, Day (mm/dd). These UDFs accept any decimal or whole number. The number can be positive or negative (12, 12.5, -54, -1).

Currency. These UDFs accept currency amounts. The country’s monetary symbol (for example, $) displays in a report).

It is important to know that after you save the UDF, you cannot go back and change the data type. This is why it is important to know the kind of data you want the field to track before you create the UDF.

Field Applications
Account Types. This type includes Constituents, Tributes, and Users. When you select Constituent, the field appears on the Defined Fields page of a Constituent account. When you select Tribute, the field appears on the Defined Fields page of a Tribute account, and so on. These options are for tracking general information about these types of accounts.

Journal Types. This type includes Calendar Items, Contacts, Notes, and Transactions for journal entries. Transactions and Contacts are more commonly used over the others. This type is great for tracking historical data that might be collected multiple times over weeks, months, or years.

Other. This type includes Personas and Relationships. The persona page of an account stores Address, Phone Numbers, and Email information. The Persona Field Application allows you to track additional contact information for an account. The Relationships application is used less, but helps capture additional details about two related accounts.

After you’ve named the field and selected a data type, you can move on to selecting Field Applications. Have you ever wondered why you see particular fields in only certain parts of the database? Field Applications is responsible for that. This is where mistakes are most commonly made when creating a UDF. Although eTapestry allows you to select more than one application, you should usually only select one application for each field. This determines where the field appears in the program, but if you select to display the fields in multiple areas, they are not linked to each other. For example, if you select to display the UDF on the Persona page and on the Defined Fields page, each field is independent from the other. You have created two separate fields. As you can imagine, this can lead to data entry problems and also mean queries and reports are not based on accurate data. Each field application controls different things.

Display Types

We can now move on to the Display Type. Your selections in this step determine how the UDF appears on the page.

Three are four different display types. The images that appear on screen under each type only serve as examples of how the data type appears in the program.

Selectable Types

Selection from a set of values Although this is the default option, it isn’t best for every UDF field. This displays the UDF as a checkbox and requires you to enter the checkbox values on the next step. Each value displays with an empty checkbox beside it. Select this option when more than one value needs to be selected.

Allow assignment of only one value This displays the UDF as a drop down field. On the next step, you enter the values to appear in the drop down. Select this option when you only want one value to be selected.

Freeform Text Types

Text Box This displays the UDF as a field that can accept a value or sting of text in one field on a single line. Select this option when you anticipate many values and you do not have an exact list of answers that you want users to select.

Note Field This displays the UDF as a larger text box field. Select this option if you expect answers to include full sentences, paragraphs, or lists.

After you save the UDF you can’t go back and change the display type. For example, when you select a drop down menu display type, you can’t go back and change it to a text box after the UDF has been saved. Selectable Types and Freeform Text Types handle the data differently, so the system does not allow you to switch between the two types.

Since we selected Text Box for our Adult Ticket Quantity field, we do not have values to enter for the UDF. Therefore, This step does not apply to this Defined Field displays on the page. If we created a Selectable Types UDF to display a checkbox or drop down option, we would enter values in the Name field and then click the Add Value button. To create the rest of the values, you simply repeat this step.

To complete building the UDF, click Next or Save And Finish under Navigation. This saves the UDF and ends the New Defined Field process.

What if I have a bunch of fields I don't use or don't want anymore? 
The first step is to take a look at what you have. The easiest way to look at all your UDF's and their locations, is to run the User Defined Report. It is located under Management User Defined Fields. You can then download this report into excel and see how many fields you have, if they are in more than one place and where they are located. 


I find its helpful to look at them in the spreadsheet as you plan to clean them up. You can then query on certain values to see which have data in them and which don't. You can disable fields from multiple locations and only retain the value in the location you want to keep it in. You also can disable categories, move fields and rerrange them into categories that are more meaningful.  If you would like more information about data health & data cleanup, I regularly conduct a workshop for eTapestry customers on Data Health best practices. A copy of that presentation should be available in community for you to review.  Also, if you would like our help, the database audit conducted by our consulting team can help you reorganize, create and eliminate user defined fields with our advise and support. It also can provide a Mass Delete of UDF's if you have a large number of fields and the data in them, that need to be eliminated.  You can also purchase just a Mass Delete of UDF's. For more information, contact our sales team.

BUT - you can absolutely build and maintain User Defined fields all on your own! Just keep in mind the pitfalls and the best practices of User Defined Fields I talked about today!  
User Defined Fields are a GREAT tool to capture important information about your donors. Knowing how to think about them and build them effectively will make you LOVE UDF's!  If you have any questions - you can email me at

Posted by Pam Dechert on Feb 12, 2016 4:32 PM America/New_York