Donor Data Management: 5 Top Tips for Better Fundraising

Every now and then we feature content from outside contributing authors who help bring new insights into the world of nonprofits and fundraising. This article comes to us from Jeff Gordy, CEO of Z2 Systems, Inc., the makers of NeonCRM. NeonCRM provides nonprofits with the tools they need to grow their mission, inspire their audience, and scale their organization for success.

Every nonprofit fundraising1 strategy revolves around donor data in some way.

Not only is data necessary for getting into contact with your donors, but also it’s difficult (if not impossible) to create thoughtful and compelling engagement opportunities without first having some insight into your donors’ habits and affinities.

However, managing data can be tricky. Many nonprofits aren’t yet sure how to go about keeping their data lean and organized so they can more effectively leverage that data.

Never fear! In this article, we’ll cover five donor data management best practices that lead to better fundraising.

Here are the topics we’ll look into:

  1. Enlist the help of a donor database.
  2. Migrate right.
  3. Learn your software.
  4. Optimize data entry.
  5. Keep an eye towards maintenance.

Now let’s dive into donor data!

1. Enlist the help of a donor database.

What’s the best practice?

Managing your donor data will be much more straightforward with the help of the right tools.

There are many data management systems that nonprofits can turn to for organizing their donor data. However, none can compare to the donor database.2

Nonprofit donor databases allow you to create donor records, where you can store and track all pertinent data on your constituents.

For example, you can record your donors’:

  • Basic biographical information and demographics.
  • Contact information.
  • Corporate, familial, and other relationships.
  • Interests and affinities.
  • Previous interactions with your organization, such as gifts, volunteer involvement, event attendance, and online engagement.

And this list certainly isn’t exhaustive! Many donor databases will easily allow you to add custom fields and notes, so you can track organization-unique information.

For example, if you were an animal rights organization3, you could add a “Pet Name” field to keep track of your donors’ pets and reference them in your outreach. Trust us—your donors will be impressed that you were paying such close attention!

Why is it important?

The biggest benefit of donor databases over other constituent management systems is the fact that all data is centralized.

Since all data sources are housed under the same roof, they can communicate with each other to provide your nonprofit with a more complete and detailed understanding of your donors.

With a 360º view, your nonprofit can better connect to your supporters4 by providing personalized engagement opportunities through their preferred outreach channels. And a more engaged base is a more invested base (literally)!

Furthermore, centralizing your donor data will make it universally accessible to your staff and reduce the instances when you’ll have to transfer data between systems, leaving you with less room for error when it comes to both the data itself and how your staff handles it.

The point is: Centralization will help you approach your donors more insightfully and keep your data organized, thus enabling you to leverage it more effectively. To keep your data centralized, turn to a donor database.

2. Migrate right.

What’s the best practice?

When moving into a new donor database, the first step will be migrating existing data from your current systems to the new platform.

Migration can be a long and complicated process, but it couldn’t be more crucial. Here are a few tips that can help make data transfer more successful:

  • Clean your data. The importance of cleaning your data before the switch cannot be emphasized enough. You should start by standardizing your existing records, cutting out-of-date or extraneous information, and eliminating duplicate entries to ensure that your data is lean and accurate. That way, you’re only transferring what you need and can minimize the time data transfer will take.
  • Consider hiring a consultant. Many donor database vendors offer data migration consultation. If your vendor doesn’t, there are plenty of third-party services who do. Don’t be afraid to invest in a little extra help if you need it.
  • Migrate in stages. Data transfer can take a long time. Make it more digestible by prioritizing your data and moving it over in stages. Plus, handling migration this way will limit the amount of data that’s inaccessible to your staff at certain times.

Follow these tips, and migration should be more than manageable!

Why is it important?

Migrating your data in the right way will set you up for long-term fundraising success, since you’ll start out with more clean and accurate donor records.

Additionally, taking a strategic approach will make data migration less of a hassle and minimize the amount of time you spend completing the process.

And you know what that means: better fundraising sooner!

The point is: Data migration can be a headache. Make it as easy as possible and start utilizing your database sooner by cleaning your data beforehand, hiring a consultant, and migrating in stages.

3. Learn your software.

What’s the best practice?

Data migration is only half of the equation. In order to get fully set up with your software, you and your staff will need to learn how to use it, too.

The most obvious way to start learning your software is by taking advantage of the training5 options your vendor provides.

Most offer at least two options:

  1. Pre-recorded videos, which are usually free but can’t be tailored to your organization’s needs and concerns.
  2. Onsite and/or online custom training, which allows you to ask questions and focus on the modules your organization will be using most, but which usually comes at a cost.

Whether or not it’s worth it to invest in custom training will ultimately depend on your organization’s needs.

However, what’s more important to note here is that your organization shouldn’t just stop learning your software once training ends. Donor databases are complex pieces of software, and there’s no way you could possibly learn every feature within the span of training.

You should be learning your software consistently. Explore different modules and keep testing out its functionality!

It can be helpful to set learning goals (for example, one month you’ll focus on the donor management module, the next on the communications module, etc.) to hold you and your staff accountable to learning your software fully.

Why is it important?

Having the right tools (software and clean data) is an excellent first step to successful data management.

However, no matter how robust your software is, it can’t function to its full power if your staff doesn’t understand how to use it properly.

Initially learning your software and continuing to explore it ensures that your staff will be able to maximize the benefits your donor database provides.

The point is: The better you know your software and are able to utilize its modules, the more it can help you improve and simplify your fundraising efforts.

4. Optimize data entry.

What is the best practice?

Of course, data management doesn’t end the minute you’re set up with and trained on your donor database! You’ll still need to enter all of the new donor data you receive on a regular basis.

As with the other steps of the data management process, there are better ways to handle data entry than others.

Here are a few ways to make entry easier and more effective:

  • Integrate platforms. Ideally, your organization should integrate any channel you use for collecting data with your CRM (don’t forget your website!6). Integrating automates much of data entry, minimizing the amount of time you’ll have to spend doing it by hand and reducing room for error.
  • Automate data entry tasks. Your donor database should include features that can automate data entry and upkeep for you, such as eliminating duplicate records.
  • Standardize entry procedures. For the data fields that have to be entered by hand, make sure that you have a detailed list of procedures. You should have standards for every data point that could possibly be entered in more than one way (phone numbers, titles, empty fields, etc.). Standardizing entry will make it easier to retrieve data and train new staff members on your database.
  • Limit the amount of staff entering data. You should also keep the number of people entering data to an absolute minimum to reduce the chances of duplicate entries and other procedural errors. Additionally, ensure that everyone has clearly defined and separate tasks so that no two people are handling the same data.

Why is it important?

Automating many of your data entry processes will open up more staff hours, allowing you to allocate your time in the most meaningful way.

Not to mention, by having clearly defined processes and guidelines in place for data entry, you’ll reduce your room for error significantly.

When your data is clean, accurate, and easy to retrieve you’ll be much more successful at leveraging it to improve your fundraising.

The point is: Handling data entry with care will set you up with a cleaner and more powerful database, minimize mistakes, and optimize staff hours.

5. Keep an eye towards maintenance.

What’s the best practice?

Aside from data entry, there are some other tasks you’ll need to complete regularly to keep your donor database running at top speed.

Here’s what you should be thinking about when it comes to database maintenance:

  • Regular cleaning. Your organization should set aside a time once a year to perform a thorough cleaning. Make sure your records are standardized, delete duplicates, and get rid of any lapsed donor7 profiles. You should also send out a quick email blast asking your donors to confirm their contact information and update your database accordingly.
  • Updates. Your donor database vendor should provide frequent software updates to correct bugs and keep your software compatible with current technology. Make sure that your organization is looking out for updates and installs them ASAP.
  • Data backup. It couldn’t be more important to have a full backup of your data at all times. Remember to create a new backup anytime that you make a significant change to your database.

Maintenance is an important component of data management, so be proactive about it!

Why is it important?

Your donor database will be running tirelessly to help your organization, so it’s important to give it a little TLC!

By taking an active approach to maintaining your software, you ensure that it’s always functioning as well as possible.

Let’s break it down by each of the tasks we discussed above:

  1. Cleaning. Regularly cleaning your database means that you’ll always have an accurate and up-to-date set of data to draw from, so you can better connect to your donors. You can also nip any data entry errors in the bud before they become larger problems that are harder to handle.
  1. Updates. Failure to update your software could mean that it’s no longer compatible with your other technology. And if that’s the case, your donor database will be virtually useless to your organization.
  2. Backup. If you don’t have a current backup of your data and something happens to your database, you could lose a wealth of valuable donor information. Without that information on hand, you won’t be able to get in touch with your donors, nevertheless send them relevant and compelling communications.

The point is: If your organization doesn’t properly maintain your database, you could suffer dire consequences that will cause your efforts to take a hit. Clean your data regularly, update your software, and keep a full backup of your database to ensure your data is functioning as it should.

For more information on data management and donor databases, check out NeonCRM.



Jeff Gordy is the Co-Founder and CEO of Z2 Systems, Inc., the makers of NeonCRM for nonprofits. Jeff has been working with his team for the last 12 years on building the optimal fundraising, CRM database, and marketing solution for nonprofits. Before starting the company, Jeff worked for the Kidney Cancer Association and knew that nonprofits needed better software solutions to help with their many challenges.

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