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10 Ways to Maximize Your Donor Database

Donor databases play a key role in successful fundraising. While that may sound like a bold claim, a 2014 survey found that when nonprofits implemented a donor database, they were 49% more likely to describe their fundraising as “effective” or “very effective”, and 38% saw increased revenue.

Want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your data? Below are 10 ways you can maximize your donor database.

1. Don’t Be Afraid of Policies

There’s no way around it: the number one thing you can do to get the most out of your database is to have clear policies. If you don’t have guidelines on entering data, booking gifts and preparing reports you’ll regularly find yourself spending hours cleaning up spreadsheets. Worse, you might not realize your sloppy data is leading to major mistakes such referring to a major donor by the wrong name!

2. Track All Donor Interactions

Do you remember the details from that meeting last year? Maybe not – but luckily you put detailed notes in your database to reference before your next meeting. Many nonprofits fail to capture donor interactions in detail, which means they risk losing key organizational memory. Don’t just track gifts: record emails, appeals, newsletters, and meeting notes. If this is daunting, look for a database that integrates with your email provider so you can add emails with the click of a button.

3. Schedule Regular Data Cleanses

Even a database with great data entry processes needs some spring cleaning. Adopt a schedule for cleansing of duplicate accounts, constituents without account types, missing salutations, and address formatting errors, and consider regular NCOA runs to update addresses in your database. If you don’t know how to reach your donors, how will you solicit them?

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Mass Updates and Data Imports

Working on cleaning up your data? You probably don’t have time to update each record manually. Luckily, a mass update or import can help you easily (and accurately) update accounts, import information, and segment constituents. If you’re apprehensive, ask for help. Check for online resources, or reach out to a customer service rep to help you through your first update.

5. Segment, segment, segment

Segmenting might seem daunting, but in fact it makes the job of a fundraiser much easier. Segmenting donor data simply means dividing your constituents into different lists based on their interests, giving history, capacity, and demographic information. If you haven’t ever segmented your donors, start by coding them as current; lapsed; or prospect, noting their preferred communication methods; or recording their area of interest.

6. Integrate With Other Software

Remember how we said your database is the central nervous system of your fundraising department? To be effective, it needs to be able to integrate with all the other tools you use on a daily basis. Email integration, online payments, event and volunteer registration, and even integration with Quickbooks are all functionalities that make the job of a fundraiser much easier.

7. Use the Database Calendar

Do you have grant deadlines in an Excel spreadsheet, upcoming meetings in Outlook, and a list of to-do’s jotted down on a post-it? It’s time to use your database’s calendar: use it to track all proposal and report deadlines, outreach deadlines, and reminders. Having all calendar items in one centralized place makes it harder to miss deadlines, but you can still download upcoming deadlines to your Outlook calendar as an iCal attachment if you prefer.

8. Analyze Current Donors

Dig into the lifetime giving of donors, lapsed donors, and donor affiliations to find creative ways to ask current supporters to increase their giving. Consider running a wealth screening to see the capacity of your donor base – if your database doesn’t have the capacity, work with a third party vendor to capture this information. Remember: It’s easier to upgrade a current donor than find a new donor, so tap into who is already involved.

9. Rely on Relationships

Do you know why a donor who has been giving to your organization for 20 years made her first gift? Your executive director might know but your new major gifts officer doesn’t have ready access to that information. Code constituents to indicate their relationship to your organization. Mark current board members, past board members, advisory and junior board members, volunteers, former staff, and alumni. You want to know who people are and how they initially got involved.

10. Become Obsessed with Relationship Management

The reason to use a database in the first place is to effectively manage relationships with donors. Your database is the key to great relationship management and makes it easier to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward donors. The more you use your database to drive your work, the more effective your fundraising efforts will be!


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