Nonprofits collect all kinds of data on a daily basis. Every time a supporter makes an online donation, signs up to volunteer, or fills out an event registration form, you receive valuable information about who these individuals are and how they like to engage with your organization.
To make sure that information doesn’t go to waste, you need a donor data management strategy that supports your goals. So how do you design such a strategy? Here’s a hint: technology can help!
As nonprofit technology consultants, we at DNL OmniMedia know a thing or two about how technology can fit into almost every part of your organization. When it comes to managing your nonprofit data, your technology setup plays an integral role.
To help you use technology to manage data in the most effective way, we’ll talk through 5 must-know tips:
- Build an integrated CRM system.
- Give donors control over their data.
- Create targeted donor segments.
- Devote time to database maintenance.
- Develop processes around data entry.
Before diving into our advice, make sure your organization has the right software on-hand to carry out these strategies. Check out DNL OmniMedia’s top 8 nonprofit technology solutions to see if any of our favorite tools might complement your data management plan.
1. Build an integrated CRM system.
The first step to keeping up with your donor data is to develop a strategic storage system for it.
Between all of the different tasks vying for your team’s attention every day, you don’t want to waste too much time manually importing spreadsheets or attempting to transfer data between disconnected platforms.
Instead, build out an integrated CRM system that centralizes all of your nonprofit data and provides robust tools for easier data management. For instance, most CRM software comes equipped with features to help you:
- Build donor profiles that give you insight into your supporters.
- Segment your database into lists (more on that in the section #3).
- Create donor personas based on data trends.
- Communicate with supporters through built-in outreach tools.
- Pull reports to determine the success of a specific campaign or program.
Depending on how much you need your CRM to do, you can also implement integrations that connect your platform with other tools you use, such as fundraising or e-communication software.
Alternatively, you can invest in an enterprise-level CRM that has all of the features you need already built in, like Blackbaud CRM. Just keep in mind that products of this scale often require more configuration in order to deliver the most tailored results.
Pro tip: A nonprofit technology consultant with experience in your CRM of choice can help make your database custom-fitted to your organization. These experts can build out custom developments and work with you to make sure your software sets you up for success.
To find a firm that works for you, check out Double the Donation’s list of their favorite nonprofit IT consultants!
2. Give donors control over their data.
One of the easiest ways to lift the burden of data maintenance from your staff’s shoulders is to put the power in your supporters’ hands.
Use a technology solution that allows your constituents to update their donor profiles themselves. That way, your supporters can have full control over their preferences and information at any time, without having to go through any members of your team.
Using a custom solution (such as DNL’s Luminate Online member center), give your supporters the option to update their donor profiles themselves, including their:
- Contact information, such as email address, mailing address, and phone number.
- Recurring gift amount, schedule, and billing information.
- Email newsletter preferences.
- Personal and team peer-to-peer fundraising page(s).
When your supporters can manage their donor profiles themselves, you increase the odds that their data will stay accurate, meaning fewer email bounces, inactive profiles, event invitations lost in the mail, and overall, much less wasted time from your staff.
Plus, donors like to know that you value their time and preferences as individuals. By giving them control over their involvement with your nonprofit, you show constituents that they’re not just another number in your database—they’re a unique contributor to your cause!
3. Create targeted donor lists.
Now that you know how to give donors the choice to update their own profiles, let’s talk about how you can use that data on an everyday basis.
To ensure that you’re reaching out to donors in a way that reflects their preferences, lifestyles, and engagement habits, you can create targeted segments of your database based around any number of factors, such as:
- Preferred communication channel.
- Preferred communication frequency.
- Program or campaign interests.
- Typical gift amount.
- Preferred giving channel.
- Membership status.
You can use these lists to develop more strategic communication and solicitation plans.
For instance, let’s say your nonprofit is a local museum who regularly plans community events and programs. You may have a donor who has historically given online donations between $25 and $50 to support educational programming for children.
With this information, you can now plan out:
- How much to ask for in your next fundraising appeal to get this donor to slightly upgrade their last gift.
- Which fundraising events or programs to personally invite this supporter to attend or sponsor.
- Which giving channel to promote when sending solicitations.
You can also infer even more from this data, such as how to send your solicitation in the first place. Since you know this donor likes to give online, you can reasonably assume that they’re more likely to click a donation form link in an email than they are to send a check in the mail.
Now think about how this type of data can affect your fundraising on a larger scale. You can quickly filter your database around the fields we listed above and find out which supporters fall into each important category.
4. Devote time to database maintenance.
No matter how diligent you are with sticking to your data entry practices and keeping donors’ profiles clean, there’s no getting around a little routine maintenance in your CRM.
Just think of your nonprofit database as a house. Sure, you do your weekly chores and try to stay on top of noticeable messes, but if you don’t take the time to do a thorough “spring cleaning” a few times a year, you’re inevitably going to miss some lingering dust on the fan or a box of leftovers in the fridge. It just happens!
When it comes to your software, failing to schedule a regular cleanup can result in outdated donor profiles and data discrepancies. You can avoid that by dedicating time at least once a year to reviewing your CRM for:
- Duplicate profiles.
- Inaccurate data or mistakes within donor profiles.
- Duplicate fields (such as multiple addresses or phone numbers per profile).
- Lapsed or deceased donor profiles.
- Un-standardized data.
Your database check is also a great time to reassess how your current CRM system is holding up.
If you’ve been using the same database for a long time, you might have a significant amount of data that’s ready to be cleaned out. Databases are typically priced by the number of donor records they can store, so don’t hold onto profiles you don’t need if you could be making room for new supporters.
5. Develop processes around data entry.
Standardized data entry policies make it easier to keep your data consistent across the board.
Depending on the specifics of your data and the scale of your nonprofit, you might need to develop policies around:
- Formatting numbers (such as dates or phone numbers).
- Formatting titles (such as “Mr.” vs. “Mr”).
- Creating new fields vs. adding notes.
- Leaving empty fields blank.
- Who will update profiles and on what timeline.
As you comb through your data during your annual maintenance check, make note of trends that arise so that you can use your spring cleaning as an opportunity to improve your standards and practices — or to develop these policies for the first time.
For instance, if you’re seeing that different team members are entering dates or titles in varying formats, it may be time to update your data entry policies to take a stance on which format is preferred. Trust us: consistent formatting will make it much easier to sort, create lists, and pull reports.
You might also need to refresh your staff’s understanding of data entry best practices. Especially if you’ve updated your processes or have brought on new team members, it’s always a good idea to invest in some training to get everyone on the same page with how you’ll use your software.
If you’ve never developed such documentation before, a nonprofit technology consultant can help you put together policies that make sense for your staff and are in line with industry best practices. They can also train your team on why these standards matter and how to implement the new processes quickly and effectively.
Nonprofit data management practices will vary from one organization to the next, but more than likely, we all have the same goal — to get to know our donors in the most meaningful, profitable way.
When in doubt, keep your donors in mind and make sure your efforts always align with your supporters’ goals as well as your own. After all, you’re all in the fundraising game together!
Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together, DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.