I cannot tell you how many times I begin a consultation with a small nonprofit, only to discover they have no real donor database.
They’re still using Excel or Filemaker or something that was developed for the program or finance department many moons ago.
I also find many nonprofits that do have a decent fundraising database, but they aren’t really using it to their advantage.
It’s the equivalent of having a 747; then using it to drive down the block to the corner store.
If you’re not exactly maximizing the resources you have, or if you simply don’t have the resources you need, it’s going to adversely affect your fundraising results.
We live in an era of ‘Big Data.’ Which means that understanding why data is important, what data is most meaningful to you, and how to prioritize data collection and evaluation strategies to help you reach your goals has never been more important.
If your fundraising and marketing strategy is not currently undergirded by data, I guarantee you’re missing opportunities, working inefficiently and leaving money on the table.
Could you use a bit of guidance?
Are You Using Donor Data to Your Nonprofit’s Advantage?
Begin by answering these questions.
1. Are you evaluating the numbers of donors:
- Renewing their giving?
- Increasing their gifts?
- Decreasing their gifts?
- Earmarking their gifts for particular programs?
- Attending your events?
2. Do you know which attributes are shared among your donors so you know:
- Where to look for more folks like them?
- How to cater to their behaviors and needs?
3. Do you know which prospects and/or donors are:
- Opening your emails?
- Reading your e-news articles or blog posts?
- Sharing your content on social media?
4. Can you determine which marketing channels:
- Drive the most traffic to your website?
- Garner the greatest number of desired actions (e.g., shares, advocacy, volunteering, donations)?
5. Can you figure out:
- What type of content gets the greatest engagement?
- How engagement differs using different marketing formats (e.g., social media vs. email; Twitter vs. Facebook)?
All this information should be available to you in the form of data that is stored and can be sorted on in your donor database, CRM, website and email server analytics, and social media platforms. So begin by taking stock of what’s available to you right now. Then make a list of areas for improvement and further research.
If I can help you, I’ll be happy to do so. Or I’ll point you to someone who can.
Next… even if you’ve got easy access to all this data, you’ve got to go beyond mere storage to make your data actionable.
What’s the Point of a Gold Mine if You Don’t Extract the Gold?
Yes, your database is your potential gold mine.
It’s filled with useful information, if only you’ll commit to making strategic use of it.
Databases are not just for storage and internal reporting. They’re also for insights that facilitate intelligent marketing and fundraising that will yield the best results.
Most databases and email servers have embedded analytics tools, but they won’t work themselves. You need to designate someone on staff as a database manager whose job it is to extract, sort, manipulate and analyze the wealth of donor information readily available to you.
Database associates who do nothing but input gifts and send out acknowledgements are doing only half the job.
The only way you’ll be able to make your data work for you is to fully embrace how central data is to your success. Did you know that the definition of the word ‘data’ is: “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis?”
How Donor Data Analysis Helps You Boost Fundraising
Imagine if you knew your mid-level donor was also a long-time volunteer? Or your small donor was also a season subscriber? Or your first-time donor was also a former client? Or your anytime donor also made several gifts over the course of the year?
Would any of this information incline you to consider this donor as a prospect for a larger gift? Or perhaps for a monthly gift? Might you want to include them in your strategies for stewardship and perhaps major donor moves management?
The better you’re able to bring together all the different ways your constituents interact with your organization, the better you’ll be able to create a single, multi-dimensional view of your prospective supporters that will inform your next actions.
Among the things you’ll be able to strengthen are:
- Donor retention
- Donor reactivation
- Marketing engagement
Do you use data now to inform your strategic planning? If not, you’re assuredly leaving money on the table.
5 Strategies to Consider to Improve Data Use
1. Do you need to prioritize objectives?
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll very likely get there.
A paraphrase of one of my favorite quotes from Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking Glass.”
Your database must support your key fundraising and marketing objectives. And, as I’ve previously written, in today’s zeitgeist donor retention, content marketing and online social fundraising must be priority objectives. Keeping these fundamentals in mind, I’d recommend the following:
- A database that helps you track retention across various donor segments and create and run targeted campaigns to improve results.
To be competitive in fundraising today, you must excel at donor retention. Otherwise you’ll keep, on average, only 46% of all donors. And only 23% of first-time donors. That means more than a majority of your work will have been for naught. You’ll continue losing work product faster than you can generate it!
- A CRM that enables you to build a content editorial calendar and seamlessly distribute your message across multiple channels.
To get through the noise in an increasingly crowded marketplace, you must excel at integrated content marketing. If folks don’t know you exist, they won’t support you. If they don’t know why you exist, or how you’re different from others in the marketplace, they won’t support you. If they aren’t sure they can trust you to make a demonstrated impact that in some way restores balance to a wobbly world, they won’t support you.
- An integrated database and email solution that makes online fundraising easy to manage.
To meet folks where they are in our digitally revolutionized world, you must excel at online social fundraising. Just about everyone in what’s being called “GenC” (Generation Connected) is online. Not just a little bit, but a lot. If you don’t make it easy for folks to find you and donate to you, they won’t do so. So think carefully about all of these things. What do you need to do next?
2. Do you need a better data management solution?
If your current database and/or email delivery system doesn’t enable you to follow through on priority objectives (see above), it’s time for a change.
Increasingly, nonprofits are moving over to integrated relationship management solutions (CRMs), rather than solitary software that does bits and pieces of what you need done. A so-called “CRM” solution keeps and maintains the whole of your nonprofit’s data and assists in the management of all of your organization’s practices.
- To learn more about what might work best for you, begin by reading articles where different database solutions are explained and/or reviewed (e.g. Nonprofit Hub donor database analysis; Fundly guide to CRMs; Capterra fundraising software analysis; Capterra nonprofit software analysis; NEON nonprofit donor database e-guide; Software Advice; Double the Donation guide to top mistakes made).
Once you’re armed with all the right questions, based on your needs:
- Call some of your admired friends and competitors to see what they’re doing.
- Call some vendors and ask for demonstrations.
- Call some users and ask for their reviews.
- Call your current vendor and see if they have integrated solutions you may not know about.
And, remember, “I can’t afford it” is really not a truism. There are numerous reasonably priced solutions out there. When it comes to building a sustainable fundraising strategy over the long-term, you really cannot afford not to invest in a database management solution.
3. Do you need to add experienced staff?
In my experience, there are two types of development staff. Behind-the-scenes and public-facing. You need both. Sometimes these attributes are found in one person. But rarely does even this one person have time to do both things. At least not well.
If you don’t assign someone the job of intelligent database entry, manipulation, reporting and evaluation, this task will get pushed to the back burner.
4. Do you need to invest in data mining/donor modeling?
To make intelligent decisions about growing your supporter base and increasing levels of support, you need to know as much as you can about the folks currently in your database.
Data mining and donor modeling helps you sift your data to establish relationships between certain characteristics, and to also see trends. There is much you can figure out on your own, using the same methods and tools as some of the vendors you’ll find. There are simple ways to get started pretty quickly.
But it may be more cost-effective to purchase a solution from experts who do this all day long. You can buy a variety of predictive analytics modules that will point you towards those folks who, for example, have annual giving, major gifts or planned gifts likelihood. This enables you to segment your lists and better target your most likely donor-prospects. You can also purchase research capability so you can find out more about your top individual prospects.
5. Do you need to create a better supporter experience?
- Do you have a clean database, so you don’t mail duplicates and/or deceased and wrong addresses?
If you have duplicates, this can create multiple problems. It annoys donors to get more than one piece of mail, it wastes your resources, it decreases your database speed and it makes it harder to find the most up-to-date information you need when you do a database search. Multiple files for the same donor or volunteer can occur for many reasons, such as the fact you may connect with folks multiple ways: in person, on the phone, via email, through social media, or via a 3rd party site. Each interaction results in a new addition of information to the database. You need a system that enables you to merge and purge information on the spot, eliminating duplicates along the way. Similarly, you want to update addresses and personal information like marital status and death as soon as possible.
- Do you get your thank you letters out promptly?
Are they personal, incorporating some of what you know about your donor into the acknowledgement (e.g., gift amount, donor name, purpose of gift, appeal to which donor responded/how money will be used, fact they increased the size of their gift, fact they made a repeat gift, etc.)? Are your top donors getting thank you calls? Do you treat first-time donors differently? If your current database doesn’t make it easy for you to show your donors you know them, it’s time to consider a change.
- Do you regularly respond to folks who engage with you online?
Are you able to monitor social postings and identify opinion leaders and influencers? Do you have a system for responding to donor complaints? Can you easily segment your email list to target distinct constituent segments differently? If your current email provider or CRM doesn’t make it easy for you to reach out more personally to your most connected constituents, it’s time to consider a change.
- Do you follow through with planned actions?
It doesn’t help you to set up a thoughtful stewardship program or major gifts moves management plan, if you don’t track your actions, monitor what works/what doesn’t, and follow through to the next step. Does your database help you to do this? If not, it’s time to consider a change.
In 2017, when other nonprofits are focusing in on improving their supporter experience, it’s imperative you invest in systems and staffing that enable you to do the same.
- A robust database and constituent relationship management solution is an essential pre-condition to effective donor acquisition, retention and upgrading.
- It’s imperative you designate someone to consider all the ways your data can inform your marketing and fundraising strategies.
- It’s important to create a multi-dimensional profile of your top prospects so you can be strategic in use of limited time and resources.
What’s holding you back from using data more effectively? Please share in the comments below.
Photo by Claire Axelrad as part of a series: The Art of Philanthropy – ‘Love of Humankind’ – as Seen Through the Prism of the World’s Art Museums