The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Donor Data

What’s the state of your donor database? Here are some of the answers we’ve heard from our clients:

  • We’ve got board members from the 80s. Event attendees from the 90s. It’s hard to hack through all of it to find anything useful.”
  • “We don’t know who anyone is — we have names and gift amounts, but we don’t know if gifts were for gala attendance or in support of a specific program.”
  • “There was a lot of turnover in our database coordinator position, and now we’re uncovering issues.”
  • “I’m a one-person shop. I try to get volunteer help to help with data entry, but that makes consistency a challenge. Sometimes it’s easier just to do it myself.”

It doesn’t make any sense! Your database is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. Devoting time to maintaining it properly is critical to your fundraising success.

So — just in time for the new year — here are three data projects that will help you raise more money:

  1. Clear out the weeds. Invest in a data-cleaning service. The minimum is the National Change of Address filter, but services that check against published obituaries, wealth screenings, and other add-ons could also be useful every few years.

    And go ahead and purge anyone who hasn’t responded to you in five years or longer. Your time is better spent focusing in on the people who are listening instead of shouting into the void.

  2. Segment your way to success. We hope you’re keeping track of who’s who in your database — volunteers, donors, event attendees, online givers, direct mail responders.

    Now’s the time to focus on a few other segments, and develop specific strategies to communicate with them more effectively:

    First-time donors (make sure you know how & why they gave, and report back to them on your progress promptly)
    Monthly givers (hint: they’re committed and loyal … could they be ready to take the next step and write a gift into their estate plans?)
    Year-over-year givers whose longevity hasn’t been acknowledged (could there be major givers lurking here, waiting to be invited to do something big?)
    Lapsed donors (could a survey yield some answers about what their priorities are and why they’ve stopped giving?)

    There isn’t a single message strategy that will work equally well with all those different groups. Take time now to think through how you’ll tweak your messages to communicate more personally and authentically with everyone on your list.

    The last step in this project is to pull out your calendar and plan your messages to these groups over the whole year. You’ll be glad you did!

  3. If you don’t have procedures and standards for data entry, develop them. And if you have them, review and update them — and make sure that everyone is aware of them.

    Are corporate donors tracked under the name of the corporation, or the individual community relations manager who shepherded the gift? Does a wife’s name come before a husband’s — or are they even combined into one record? Do you have a procedure to record every “touch” you make with a donor? To code every gift?

    Are there template reports that could be set up, so it’s easier to use real-time data to make decisions?

    Getting granular about the details ensures the consistency of your data. Over time, that leads to better strategies — and better results.

Remember: the people in your database are not “your” donors. Statistics tell us that a significant portion of them will never give you a second gift — and if they’ve stopped giving, they are not likely to start again.

Tending to your donor database can help you beat those odds. What better time to start than right now?