In my years of experience working with nonprofits as a support specialist, trainer and database administrator, one thing has always remained true: Your donor database is only as good as the data you put into it.
If you put garbage in, you get garbage out.
By following the 5 C’s of healthy donor data, you can avoid most of the garbage.
Inconsistency can wreak havoc in your database. Too often I have seen data where specific details are being tracked in multiple places. Consistency is crucial for maintaining a healthy database.
Reporting often falls victim to the ramifications of inconsistent data. Inconsistencies in donation identifiers such as campaigns, funds and appeals make creating a comprehensive report a nightmare. Pulling reports where campaigns, funds and appeals have been used inconsistently will result in hair loss. You will pull your hair out trying to figure out why transactions are missing for some years but not others.
Imagine trying to build a list of donors for a mailing when a Deceased status is accounted inconsistently throughout the database. Missing one of those places in your data pull could mean wasting postage, or worse, upsetting the family of the deceased. Trust me, having been on the receiving end of a few of those phone calls, they’re just plain awkward.
Inconsistencies often occur as a result of staff turnover and multiple users entering data without standard defined data entry guidelines. Creating a policies and procedures manual for your organization that defines how specific data is entered and how the database is structured will help to prevent breakdowns in consistency as time passes and people move on.
Recording the important details for your constituents can lead to more opportunities for personal touches. This includes gathering additional information allowing you to target specific sections of your constituency through acquisition vehicles like survey cards, using the power of target analytics to help you fill in the gaps of missing information such as email addresses, birthdates and phone numbers, or simply recording all information available a check or envelope. Regardless of the size of your organization, personal touches are important and play a key role in cultivating a one time gift into a regular donor.
Current information on your donors also plays an important role in keeping your data healthy. With the availability of NCOA (National Change Of Address) services, your organization has access to address changes that will help you maintain contact with your donor pool. This service and other services, like deceased record finders, can save your organization money and resources by preventing a large pile of returned mail.
Keep your data simple and by simple I mean only the relevant stuff and in appropriate locations. Continuing to track information that your organization no longer uses or tracking it in multiple places can make your database and reporting cumbersome. If you are adding event attendance in interactions, there is no need to also add a constituent code that they participated in the 2015 5k race. Also, keeping track of an event table captain from 5 years ago may seem important at the time, however in 5 years will this still be relevant? Don’t get me wrong, having information is important in the cultivation and engagement. However, sometimes more is just more. Save yourself some time and energy. Keep it simple.
How many times have I received a solicitation addressed to “Mr. Kasey Schwartz”? Too many times to count. What happens to these pieces of mail? To be honest, they get chucked in the trash bin. Having the correct information, even something as simple as a prefix, can mean the difference between getting a donation and having your appeal thrown out with the offers for satellite tv service.
Never assume information. Filling in an incorrect piece of information can lead to awkwardness with your donors. A good example would be names for recognition. It never hurts to actually ask you donor how they want to be recognized on a donor wall or in publications like the annual report. Even taking the time for a simple Google search can provide information to ensure your data is correct.
Some donors may not mind not being addressed or recognized incorrectly. However. there are those of us that harbor a lifetime of angst in not being able to find their name on souvenir magnets at gift shops the world over. In a time where gender-neutral names are becoming more common, the internet is your friend. Use it.
Proper donor data management is tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. That’s why we’ve created a new eBook: Data That Changes The World – Your Guide to Building, Maintaining & Leveraging an Effective Nonprofit Database.