How to Improve Donor Data Management at Your Nonprofit

 In Assessments and Roadmaps, Capacity, Change Management, CRM Organizational Change, Data Analysis and Reporting, Implementation Support, Outsourced CRM Data Management

Improving donor data management can greatly increase your organization’s fundraising results. So why can it feel so hard to focus on practical steps to keep data clean and valuable? How can you prioritize learning how to improve donor data at your nonprofit when there are so many other pressing things that need your attention?

Build recently worked with a nonprofit organization that was able to turn real donor data management challenges into success.

How to Improve Donor Data Management at Your Nonprofit

This client is a typical mature mid-sized nonprofit organization. Their mission is providing news and analysis to 55,000 subscribers, with over 4,000 individual and institutional donors supporting them. This organization did not trust most of their donor data, and had no clear way forward to clean up the data and institute good data practices throughout the organization.

They believed they were not interacting with donors in a constituent-centric way, and that their limitations in donor contact and connection were depressing their fundraising. But without better data, they were relying on intuition rather than evidence. When they tried to test fundraising approaches, they were not sure what was noise and what was real. They had more questions than answers on what was accurate in their data.

In addition, their development team was oriented toward very seasonal fundraising, which was very stressful with huge peaks and valleys, and the seasonal cash flow was also impacting their relationships with major donors as they frequently asked for extra help.

This client needed a clear-eyed assessment of their existing data process, a plan of action to improve their data, ongoing monitoring of their donors’ needs to inform fundraising decision making, and a smoother year-long revenue stream.

Begin with Goals

This organization came to Build Consulting with three clear goals:

  1. Increase overall revenue
  2. Smooth out cash flow peaks and valleys (the result of seasonal fundraising)
  3. Reduce stress on both donors and fundraisers

The organization looked to Build to provide the development operations expertise and data/technology experience necessary to assess and analyze their current challenges, and provide a roadmap and implementation support as they revamped their data and their fundraising process.

Making any changes to fundraising—while fundraising—is a risky and stressful endeavor. Luckily this client had support throughout the project, and the donation bottlenecks and data issues Build corrected led to immediate improvements, including a 15% jump in revenue the first year. This was motivating to the team to continue to correct their data and explore what their data could do for their fundraising.

Clear for Action

Build performed a thorough assessment with this client, conducting interviews to understand their database and fundraising process, and reviewing their data. Our outsourced CRM data management team worked with the client to clear “noise” from the inaccurate data and understand their constituents and any roadblocks to donations. Build surveyed a sample of their engaged donors, who were eager to be helpful to a nonprofit they support. And Build was able to help this client test, test, test their assumptions using a data-driven approach.

The result of this initial phase was a clear plan of action. Because Build worked collaboratively and transparently with the internal stakeholders, the client had a high level of buy-in and executive support as they moved into the second phase of the fundraising project. Whether your nonprofit is tackling a fundraising/data clean up project on your own or with a consultant, read this post on how to get the best stakeholder input for your nonprofit tech project.

Another outcome of this analytical phase was stakeholder participation in a database process they owned and trusted. Build helped the client understand the deeper connections between the technology platforms the client was using, their process to manage the data in their various systems, and the role that each stakeholder played in creating and maintaining accurate donor data.

Take Action

In this client’s case, as with many nonprofits, the fundraising process was oriented toward the development team’s needs, and those practices were themselves oriented toward an antiquated system that had been producing untrustworthy data for decades. In addition to helping the organization develop a technology roadmap to help them see how data management goals fit into their overall fundraising strategy, Build worked with the development, data, and tech stakeholders to re-orient toward the donor experience. This means marketing, development, programs, and operations need to “hand off” the donor seamlessly, and to do that, donor data must be accurate and trustworthy at all points along the way.

Second, the engaged donor survey found a lot of friction in the subscription and donation processes that was keeping donors from increasing their support, and sometimes from donating at all. Build helped the client lower the barriers to engagement, lower the barriers to donate, and move stringent fraud detection behind the scenes giving donors a better experience at the point of giving. Without losing the ability to prevent fraud, the client was able to give donors more confidence in the process and they gave more generously. Build helped identify other barriers to donations and once those were removed, it was not surprising but very rewarding to see donations rise significantly; 15% in the first year and steadily thereafter.

With accurate donor data, the client was able to analyze and segment contacts in more consistent and targeted ways. They focused on moving lower level donors to a higher level of support through the right asks to the right donors at the right time. This is the bread and butter of development, but is only possible when the team trusts the data.

But how to ensure the donor data stays trustworthy over time? Apply greater discipline in constituent data management, and create systems of leadership accountability for data. The client created a data policy and training that emphasized consistent application of fewer and better-defined constituent, gift, and campaign codes, and more consistent use of reportable fields in the constituent record. They also implemented more careful and consistent use of audit tools to keep constituent data clean. The result was reliable data that can drive strategic planning. Even with this project fresh in their minds, however, the client knows how easy it is to fall out of good data habits, through poor time management, staff turnover, or inconsistent training and accountability. Data management is a discipline that must be constantly monitored and updated over time.

Next Steps to Improve Donor Data Management at Your Nonprofit

Aligning your leadership, inviting the right database stakeholder participation, and managing change at your organization are not easy. But they’re a valuable investment of your time when faced with fundraising challenges. Spending the time and effort to create trustworthy donor data will create greater trust in the fundraising strategy and process throughout your organization.

Predictive and dynamic technology tools can help Development staff focus on the highest value strategies, and reliable data help staff analyze and plan appropriate fundraising goals and techniques. And less time spent in customer services and records management means more time spent in productive dialogue with donors.

Need More Expertise?

Want to learn more about database change management, and other important elements of fundraising technology projects and donor data fundamentals? Contact Build to start the convesation.

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