Improving donor data for a news and analysis nonprofit

The Story

  • Build teamed with this client to clear existing data problems, and take action to improve fundraising outcomes.
  • After gaining consensus and creating a functioning data team, Build helped align marketing, development, and programs data.
  • The client average revenue increased in each of the next three years, with a dramatic 15% increase in the first year.
  • The client smoothed out cashflow, streamlined fundraising messages, and gained trust in their fundraising process.
  • They found they could spend more time with donors and less time in records management.
  • Dynamic and predictive technology helped them focus on the highest value fundraising strategies.
  • The clean data processes they adopted created data they trusted, and that data demonstrated fundraising strategies that worked.

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The Client

  • A 15-year-old organization providing news and analysis related to certain cultural issues
  • Provides news bulletins, analysis, and information services to 55,000 subscribers
  • 4,000 individual and institutional donors supporting the mission

The Opportunity

This organization came to Build Consulting with three primary 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 us to provide the development operations expertise and data/technology experience necessary to accomplish their goals.

The Solution

After a brief assessment of the client’s needs, including a review of their current development practices and their constituent and gift data, we organized the solution into two phases:

  1. Clear for Action
  2. Take Action

We then collaborated with the client to execute both phases.


Phase 1: Clear for Action

Decreased the “noise” in the database. We analyzed the organization’s donor data and used the findings from that analysis to: eliminate or consolidate duplicative records; eliminate outdated constituent and gift coding, custom attributes, and notes; eliminate any data so inconsistently collected in the past that it served as no better than “anecdata” moving forward; archive all data eliminated from the database in easily accessible flat files. The result was a clean set of constituent data from which to generate accurate reports and an honest view of what could reasonably be known about the constituents (individually and as a whole) from data in-hand.

Got to know the constituents. We surveyed constituents to determine engagement behaviors, value proposition absorption, emotional needs, opportunities for expanding the relationship, and referral potential. We then informed this information with demographic and constituent behavior data from sources such as Google Analytics and Quantcast. Finally, we developed a group of 30 key constituent stakeholders (including top donors and other high-engagement and/or well-connected constituents) to provide additional input. The result was constituent data the client could trust, with a clearly identified and manageable donor cultivation strategy.

Learned more about best practices and engagement/giving trends. We identified industry best practices for fundraising, focused on moving non-donors to donate, turning one-time or annual donors into monthly “sustainers,” increasing giving commitments, fundraising campaign messaging, and matching contributions. The result was data that could productively be analyzed.

Developed a plan and built consensus. The outputs from the previous steps took most of the guess-work out of what the organization needed to do moving forward. In a subtle way, it increased accountability by highlighting where ego, personal preference, hunches, or convenience were driving strategic and tactical decisions, rather than data and best practices. Because the findings from the analysis were well-documented and socialized, the result was that board members, executives, staff, and even key constituent stakeholders were all on board.


Phase 2: Taking Action

We aligned marketing, development, and programs to better serve constituents.

Reduced friction in the subscription and donation processes. Online registration and donation forms were stripped down to the bare essentials and aligned to industry best practices to achieve better conversion percentages. Previously, competing interests from Marketing and Development had resulted in too much information being collected up-front, decreasing conversion rates. Survey data provided enough direction to make gathering most of this information on a per-constituent basis completely unnecessary. The result was that by following best practices for lowering friction to register/donate, conversions increased dramatically.

Improved handling of potentially fraudulent transactions. The client changed to a payment gateway with better and more configurable anti-fraud mechanisms. We also integrated predictive analytics into to the donation form. This resulted in two major benefits. (1) Fewer false-positives in fraud detection. For example, the new gateway allowed foreign donors in Asia became able to make large donations on credit cards—their preferred payment method. This change increased donations by lowering barriers without any increase in fraud. (2) Dramatically decreased the number of chargebacks and refunds. Streamlining this process saved staff time, and increased donor confidence. The result was a dramatic first year donation increase of 15%.

Pushed the right Call to Action. Priority was placed on getting people to register for a free information service rather than getting them to donate. Data indicated that “calls to action” on the website and social media channels would increase subscription conversion rates over “calls to donate.” It also indicated the organization was much more likely to get a donation from an information service subscriber than a non-subscriber. The result was that by changing the ask, donations increased.

Improved donor data analysis and segmentation. We identified one-time or annual donors that might be converted to monthly sustainer donors, and directed more personal messages encouraging them to pledge a recurring monthly amount representing a slight increase over their previous giving levels. We then identified major donors that might be willing to increase their giving levels, as well as provide funds for matching campaigns. Finally, we identified high-engagement, non-donor constituents and engaged them in more personal dialogue about becoming donors. The result was a strategic plan that worked to increase donations.

Increased integration and process automation. We worked to improve integration between the CRM and online marketing platform, leading to better end-to-end tracking and analysis of online engagement. We then streamlined the process for constituent record management for data managers, as well as account management self-service for constituents. We used automation to predict constituent and donor readiness to deepen the relationship, and elevate that readiness to Development. Finally, we simplified the process for processing refunds and making gift adjustments. The result was a dynamic and predictive system that saved staff time and allowed a focus on higher value donation relationships.

Applied greater discipline in constituent data management. We emphasized consistent application of fewer and better-defined constituent, gift, and campaign codes, more consistent use of action entry and reporting, and less frequent use of notes—taking the time to record that data in reportable fields on the constituent record. We also implemented more careful and consistent use of tools to keep constituent data clean. The result was reliable data that can drive strategic planning.

The Results

Through our work together, the organization achieved the following:

  • Average revenue increase in each of the next three years, with the biggest boost (15%) occurring in the first year.
  • Smoothed out cashflow. Example: July, a difficult month in which to fundraise, had a first-year increase of 30%, which was sustained with additional slight increases over the next two years
  • Streamlined fundraising messages, making them more confident, value-oriented, and segmented. This increased engagement with fundraising messaging.
  • Greater trust in the fundraising strategy and process
  • Predictive and dynamic technology helped Development staff focus on the highest value strategies, and reliable data helped staff analyze and plan appropriately.
  • More time spent in productive dialogue with donors and less time spent in customer services and records management

These results in turn led to a more cheery, brighter outlook and greater staff energy—resulting in greater creativity and enthusiasm to continue advancing standards for donor data moving forward. The demonstrable gains in fundraising revenue led to a greater commitment to data processes and better teamwork.

Donor Data Management