DonorSearch’s blog is dedicated to covering prospect screening and other fundraising-related topics, yet our readers and customers often ask how they can keep their donor databases clean. So we reached out to Steven Shattuck at Bloomerang to share a few strategies for how nonprofits can keep their donor databases clean.
A nonprofit can never reach their full fundraising potential unless their donor database has clean, actionable data. Making sure that data is accurate when it’s first inputted is one challenge. Keeping it that way is quite another.
If you ever want accurate prospect screening results or useful reports, you must keep your donor database clean and tidy. Here are four tips:
Tip #1: Document your data entry procedures and review them often
Many donor databases fail to reach their true potential simply because there is no defined process for data entry. Documenting and sticking to one universal process will ensure that all data is formatted consistently, and will protect your fundraising efforts in the event of staff turnover.
Because organizations evolve as they grow, it’s important to re-examine your processes every once in a while (at least annually). You may have an obsolete procedure, or find that there’s a slightly better way to do something. Don’t be afraid to change if it increases your productivity!
Tip #2: Run an NCOA at least once a year
Running an NCOA (National Change of Address) process will ensure that your constituent’s contact information in your donor database is up-to-date and accurate. The NCOA database contains data for all change of address requests filed by US postal customers in the past 48 months. Running an NCOA process will compare the contact info found in your database with the info found in the NCOA database.
It’s always a good idea to run an NCOA a few months before a big direct mail appeal. 17% of Americans move each year, and running an NCOA is a requirement to qualify for USPS bulk mailing rates.
Tip #3: Have multiple people in the organization use the database
This may seem counterintuitive. “Won’t too many cooks in the kitchen lead to inconsistent data?” Not if your processes are well-defined, documented and followed.
More importantly, though, is the need for your fundraisers to input data themselves. Too often, notes and verbal recollections of meetings and interactions are passed on to a database administrator, who then has to translate and input those notes into the system. Too much gets lost in translation.
A major gift fundraiser, for example, would be better off inputting the notes of a meeting with a prospect immediately after the conversation.
Tip #4: Purge lapsed donors annually
If someone has not given to your organization in two years, they likely will never give again. Unfortunately, many nonprofits still send (costly) direct mail appeals to donors that have long since lapsed.
You should consider removing the records of donors who have not donated in the last two years. If this makes you nervous, back it up to five years. Don’t treat the records in your database like a security blanket!
The exceptions would be past board members, past employees, past volunteers and current volunteers.
While you’re at it, identify the donors that have only given 10% of the funding in the last two years. Create a re-engagement plan for this segment, and watch them closely.
If you stay diligent in your procedures and are shrewd about both the data you keep and the data you discard, then your database will be transformed from a liability to a true partner in fundraising.
About the Author: Steven Shattuck is the VP of Marketing at Bloomerang, a next-gen donor database for nonprofits.
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