5 eTapestry Query Building Tips from a Sidekick

Queries are the first step to reporting in Blackbaud® eTapestry®. Queries segment and filter data in your Blackbaud eTapestry database so it can be displayed or exported in a report. eTapestry queries are a critical feature to learn and eventually master, but they can be challenging.  After many years of working with eTapestry, I have learned some eTapestry query best practices. This post shares some of the tips and tricks I use to build queries in eTapestry.

1. Keep it simple

Keep queries as simple as possible. Some queries are complex, but try not to add more complexity than is necessary. Trial and error are generally required to get queries exactly the way you want them, and simple queries are easier to troubleshoot than complex queries.

Simple queries are also flexible. Simple queries can be used as starting criteria or elements of compound queries. The more complex you make a query the less options you will have to adapt that query to other query projects.

Simple queries are also easy to understand and easy to communicate. After you build a query, try to explain the query to a co-worker. If you can describe the query to them so they understand it and you understand it, then you are on the right path.

2. Write the narrative

I still do this every time I build a query. I ask myself, “What data am I trying to select with this query?” Then I write out the answer to my question.

A query narrative will start with “I want…” and then conclude with the criteria for the data you are looking for. For example, I want all constituents that have given more than $100 in the current fiscal year or I want all constituents that live in Spokane, WA that are active volunteers.

With the narrative written, I can break the narrative into its component parts.

Let’s use the volunteer example.

  • “I want all constituents…” That means my starting criteria will be “Base – All Constituents” and my data return type will be Accounts.
  • “That live in Spokane, WA…” That means I need a criteria value that selects accounts with a persona city and state of Spokane and WA respectively.
  • “Who are registered or active volunteers.” The second criteria will need to select all accounts with a designation of volunteer (this will depend on how your eTapestry database is setup).
  • Lastly, because we want all volunteers who also live in Spokane, WA, we must select a “Match” value of “All of my criteria” so the query selects accounts with both criteria.

An eTapestry query narrative is a blueprint for your query. The narrative is preparatory work before you ever start building a query.

3. Use pre-existing queries

Each eTapestry database comes with a number of pre-existing and pre-built queries. These queries are populated in the categories of Base, Constituent Journal Entry Date, Journal Entry Date, LYBUNT & SYBUNT, Pledges and Payments, and Processed Transactions. These queries are ready to use in your Blackbaud eTapestry software system day one.

Look for pre-existing queries that match your narrative before building new queries in your database. Pre-existing queries are commonly used as starting criteria or in compound queries. Pre-existing queries can also be used as the primary query for eTapestry Standard Reports.

4. Add a name and description

Add informative names and descriptions to every query in your eTapestry database. Query lists and categories contain many queries and it is difficult to find pre-existing queries just by scrolling through the lists. Use the search box in the query list screen to search for the query you’re looking for. The search function looks at both the name and description of each query to generate a list of results. Giving each query a name and description will help you find queries and understand their purpose quickly and easily.

Query names and descriptions also help with transparency across the organization. You may know what all of the queries in your database do, but does the new person you just hired know, does your executive director know, or does your development associate know? Operational transparency is very important, so it is an eTapestry best practice to develop informative names and descriptions for eTapestry queries.

5. Walk away, phone a friend, and hang in there

Queries can be frustrating. Sometimes queries just don’t work right. Query errors are generally not faults of the software. They are caused by translation error from the user to the eTapestry query setup. Writing the narrative, using pre-existing queries, and keeping queries simple will help you develop queries, but sometimes a query just doesn’t work as intended.

What happens if you just can’t get the query to do what you want? I recommend the following three step process.

  • Step 1: If you are very frustrated with your progress or you are making no progress, walk away. Take a break, go outside, walk around, and refresh your mind. A refresh will bring your energy and mood back into balance so you can complete the task of building a great query. You may even figure out the error in your query while you take this break.
  • Step 2: If you walk away and are still frustrated, phone a friend. Phone a friend can take many forms. You can ask a colleague to review your work, contact eTapestry support, watch a training video, search the web, or confide in a consultant that provides you support. Even talking through your narrative with someone who doesn’t know eTapestry can help. Talking through the query is more for your benefit because it gives you and opportunity to think through your query from a different angle.
  • Step 3: If progress is still slow after you phone a friend, hang in there. Queries require fortitude, determination, and commitment. “If at first you do not succeed, try, and try again.” The challenges you face building queries are enhancing your knowledge of eTapestry. Practice makes perfect with eTapestry queries. Experience is the best way to master them.

More eTapestry query tips

If you want to learn more about eTapestry queries check out this post from Blackbaud eTapestry on troubeshooting query and report challenges or this post on Blackbaud’s top eTapestry query tips.

You can also check out our post on common eTapestry query challenges and how to fix them or learn five ways to use eTapestry custom account queries.

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