Improving donor data for a news and analysis nonprofit

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

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We produced a webinar based on this case story. See Improving Donor Data: A Real-Life Story (Video).

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donor data and used the findings from that analysis to: eliminate or consolidate duplicative records; eliminate outdated constituent and gift coding, custom attributes, and notes; eliminate any data so inconsistently collected in the past that it served as no better than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.

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.

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, 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. Development-specific examples:

Reduced friction in the subscription and donation processes. To reduce friction in the digital experience with constituents, 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, not grounded enough in industry best practices, had resulted in way too much information being collected up-front, dramatically increasing friction and decreasing conversion rates. Survey data provided enough direction to make gathering most of this information on a per-constituent basis completely unnecessary.

Improved handling of potentially fraudulent transactions. Additional reduction of friction was made by changing 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. As an example: foreign donors in Asia being able to make large donations on credit cards—their preferred payment method. They had not been able to do so with the previous gateway. Fewer fraudulent transactions were allowed. (2) Dramatically decreased the number of chargebacks and refunds.

Pushed the right Call to Action. On digital properties, priority was placed on getting people to register for a free information service rather than getting them to donate. Data indicated that with certain changes to use of promotional (or “call to action”) page real estate on the website and social media channels, subscription conversion rates would increase. It also indicated the organization was much more likely to get a donation from an information service subscriber than a non-subscriber.

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.

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 indication to Development’s awareness. Finally, we simplified the process for processing refunds and making gift adjustments.

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 more appropriate (and more reportable fields) on the constituent record. We also implemented more careful and consistent use of tools to keep constituent data clean.

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
  • 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.

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