7 Ways to Keep the Saddest Situation from Happening in the Nonprofit Sector

nonprofit sector

One of the happiest and most fulfilling results of providing database technology to the nonprofit sector for nearly four decades has been being able to witness the overwhelming majority of those new customers raise more dollars each year to fund their mission. In the last seven years at Bloomerang we have also witnessed virtually every customer improve their donor retention.

On the other hand, there is a small handful of customers each year going completely in the opposite direction. The saddest of those going in the opposite direction is the group this post is centered around. My sincere hope in writing about this small subset is that we can impact them and even reverse the situation for a portion of them.

Totally Giving Up

One of the many benefits of providing a true web-based solution to our nonprofits is the ability to see when any customer is not using the system on a regular basis. We start reaching out to help if more than a week or two expires without usage. Even though this is a very small percentage of customers, we know that such lack of use will almost always lead to disastrous fundraising results.

You may wonder what is the reason most given for this lack of use.

The answer given most of the time is the lack of use is due to staff turnover and not previously insisting on more than one individual using the system on at least a weekly basis. This is particularly sad when the CEO or Executive Director is not one of the regular users. (The person in the leadership role almost always has the most significant information about the discussions and details of the relationship with board members, major donors, key sponsors, founders and top volunteers.)

For some reason, the departure of one individual, not only impacts the use of the database, it often brings day-to-day fundraising activities to a halt. We often wonder what is happening to their mission and its funding when this type of giving up occurs.

Correcting the Problem

We have already alluded to a significant part of correcting, if not keeping this problem from happening for small and medium size nonprofits. Let’s spell it out with a few basic steps outlined below:

  1. From day one, insist on everyone who communicates with a donor, sponsor, volunteer, vendor or prospective donor use the database to input their notes and to sort all written and email communications. (This must include the CEO/Executive Director.)
  2. Record all financial transactions into the system, NEVER putting anything into a spreadsheet.
  3. Directly link your website email sign up, donation and event registration pages or buttons to your database.
  4. Design many of your key metrics to come directly from your database.
  5. Report on those metrics at every board meeting.
  6. Make sure all communications flow from and to your database.
  7. Insist that your mailing addresses are updated regularly so your mailings are successful.

The steps above ensure that one of the most critical components to your fundraising success, your database/CRM, is never abandoned going forward.

Keep in mind all these steps begin at the top within the leadership of your organization. This means the CEO and the board must insist upon these steps being followed. If not, the extremely sad event of the database not being used and the funding of the mission slowing may happen to you and your charity.

Please let us know if you think we missed any important additional steps that could be added to our list above.

Nonprofit Sustainability

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman.
Jay Love

One Comment

  1. Kevin Martone April 16, 2019 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this post. These are some very helpful and apt points about getting the most out of a donor management system. I agree that a small subset of organizations see their database not as a tool that can help make their fundraising and communications work more efficient and effective, but instead a hassle that gets in the way of their “real” work. Two things that you could add to your list that are crucial for nonprofits to get the most out of their system are training and data standards.

    As you mention, leadership can help ensure regular maintenance of the database. And they must also insist – and budget for – all staff who use the system to get adequately trained in the database. Far too often an organization tells me their database isn’t meeting their requirements, only to discover that the system has functionality they were unaware of or were using incorrectly. Training can be the bridge between what they need and what the system offers.

    Not only should users be trained in the basic functionality of the system, but the organization should develop data standards that define how every user in the organization enters data. Where are nicknames stored? What data gets entered for each donor and prospect and then pulled for mailing labels? How should each person be segmented in the database for reporting and communications? etc. These standards ensure more consistent data entry and data that can better support the work of the team. This blog post has a link to some sample data standards that could be modified for an organization’s specific needs: https://jcamp180.org/blog-announcements/blog/september-2017/is-your-data-a-mess-data-standards-could-help

    With staff trained in both the basic functionality of the system AND how the organization is using that system, the likelihood of success increases dramatically.


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