Spring Cleaning: 9 ways to tidy up your donor database

publication date: Apr 3, 2018
author/source: Samantha Laprade

Whether you are using a small or a huge database, there are ways you can clean up your donor data. A cleaner database will increase donor retention, save your organization money and produce accurate analytical reports.

1. Review your appeal codes. One of the biggest challenges we face at Gryphon Fundraising are organizations having pages and pages of appeal codes. This vast number of codes makes pulling analytical reports difficult. If your monthly donor code is MD and a new staff member decides they prefer MD*, the result will be misleading analytical reports. Recently, one of our clients had numerous monthly donor codes. We worked through their legend to ensure we included all monthly donors in the data subset. This allowed us to analyze metrics including donor attrition and long-term donor value.

2. Evaluate the data you capture. If you are an organization looking to segment data on various attributes, ensure you are capturing the data at the source. For instance, if it is important to you as an animal welfare organization to know if someone prefers dogs or cats, you need to capture the survey results and input this data into your database. By segmenting your data on this metric your ability to then send specific appeals to these donors is simple. This is an excellent strategy for donor stewardship. However, if you are not inputting this attribute people who love dogs will still be receiving your kitten appeal!

3. Have a ‘no garbage in’ rule. “We collect data that is actionable, clean data that is valuable, and recycle information that is meaningful, but we don’t keep garbage data” says Steve MacLaughlin, author of Data Driven Nonprofits. I agree 100%. Steve goes on to say, “Keeping your data healthy is essential to determining what is trash and what is treasure.” Garbage in, garbage out can be avoided.

4. Manage your deceased donors. When donors pass away and families advise of their passing, we need to take the time to mark this information in the database. This sounds very obvious. I am gobsmacked when organizations do not take the time to respect the donor and their family. Aside from the obvious faux pas of continuing to send the deceased donor appeals and upsetting family members, marking donors deceased is a way of saving money.

5. If you see an error, correct it! Recently while reviewing a donor database with a client, I remarked at how many spelling errors, missing capitals and wrong information I noticed in their file. The response I received was, “we are too busy and we don’t have time to fix it.” The impact on donor retention due to misspelling, wrong information and address errors is huge. When I receive an appeal addressed to Mr. Sam Laprade, I know this organization does not know me. This does not give me the warm and fuzzies and send me looking for my cheque book.

6. Please share. I will admit it, I did not want to share my data! There, I said it. I am ashamed to admit I wanted my donors all to myself. This was in the early 90’s and I was not educated yet on the importance and benefits of one database for an organization. Do event staff members still maintain seperate records of gala attendees? Do your major gift officers have a secret spreadsheet tracking their prospects? Is there one database for donors and one for members? Staff working together on one database is one of the easiest ways to break down silos in your organization.

7. Use a professional fundraising software. Did your cousin’s best friend design your database in 1999? Are you using a complicated, out-of-date system that does not allow you to pull reports, add attributes or integrate with your online donation form? A professional database is essential. There are countless donor database systems. Ensure you are using the Cadillac of databases only if it is necessary. There are many Chevrolet versions that get the job done for small and medium organizations.

8. Analyze your data. Having data and not analyzing it is like ordering a big piece of chocolate cake and only admiring it from afar! Get in there. What is your second gift conversion? What is your long-term donor value? What is your donor attrition? Find hidden gems through donor data analytics. You can save time and effort and raise more money for your important work.

9. Limit access. Not everyone in your organization needs to have access to all database functions. Establish policies and procedures for what roles are able to enter new donors, mark donors deceased and implement global changes. This is a simple way to ensure there are not too many cooks in the kitchen. Consistent entry and standards are the best way to keep your data tidy!

Samantha has a passion for connecting donors to the needs of the community. Samantha started to work with Gryphon Fundraising sharing her knowledge of donor database analytics with other non-profits in Canada, the US, and Australia. She continues to work with Gryphon and hundreds of clients worldwide. You can reach Samantha by email at Samantha@gryphonfundraising.com and 613-875-1971, or visit her website Gryphonfundraising.com.

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