Protect one of your greatest fundraising assets

Published by Alison McCants on

It’s not a killer creative proposition. Or your favourite go-to copywriter. I’m talking about your database.

paper database

The predecessor to the modern CRM (© adesigna)

Databases are often seen as a necessary means to an end, but time and time again I have seen this major asset overlooked even by experienced fundraising teams. Here are just four tips I’ve used in the past to protect this asset and make it work even harder for fundraising.

Tip #1: Standardise your database rules
Having a single CRM software system in place is not the same as breaking down silos. If three different teams use the same database – but use it very differently from each other – then it’s not really one database. You may interpret one field to mean one thing, but for another fundraiser it can mean something entirely different. That could mean they get irrelevant letters from the charity, or that two very distinct donor groups end up getting treated the same way through a misunderstanding.

Create a glossary to define each term or flag on your database so if someone wants to know what something means, there is an organisation-wide definition. That means there is a single, consistent interpretation of the non-transactional data.

Tip #2: Beware static segmentation and ring-fencing
Parochialism is often alive and well, even if the data technically sits on the same database. If you’re still talking about “Corporate contacts”, “DM donors”, “High Value donors” and “Eventers”, there’s a good chance it won’t matter that they sit on the same base. You may still be restricting how they can interact with the charity by how the fundraising team is structured.

We know increasing the products or ways a donor can engage with the charity and the cause can increase lifetime value, but sometimes practicalities like targets and schedules get in the way.

“You can’t send that appeal because I want to ask them to do this run.” Or “I don’t want to email that donor because if she donates online, it won’t be tracked back to our appeal.”

But really, we should be looking at ways for donors recruited through one means to support in other ways if that’s what the donor wants to do. The database should help us do that, but not if it’s used as a way to separate donors and “protect” them from another fundraising team.

A mini case study of doing it right – from the donor’s perspective
A charity I support in the UK, Hope and Homes for Children, has managed to develop a growing relationship with me, not pigeonholing me into one supporter segment. I give by direct debit, but I also ran a 10K for them last May. I then bought a ticket and attended a Christmas carol service in December. I’ve now mentioned them in two separate fundraising blogs. I never get the impression that any of the fundraising teams are fighting over who gets credit for my money, or that I’m only allowed to support in a certain way. This makes me feel like I have nearly never-ending choice. As my life changes, I feel like my giving can evolve to grow with me – without having to switch my support to a different charity.

Tip #3: Take stock of all your data assets
While transactional data can provide a wealth of information for analysis, personalisation, and future prompting, it’s not the only data asset.

In some cases, your complaints data can be hugely insightful into which donors trust you enough to ‘make good’ on their complaint. Loyalty and trust are linked, and how you earn that trust in a crisis situation (i.e. a situation where a donor is compelled to complain) is crucial.

A donor who complains and whose complaint is managed well is often one of your most loyal donors. They’re interacting with the charity in a different way. They think you’re listening and that it’s therefore worth their time and effort to contact you. And they’re giving you some possibly quite helpful feedback. It’s not just useful for anyone taking any future calls from this donor; it’s useful in knowing who on your base is most engaged.

(Oh, and if Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang think it’s worth investing in getting right, it probably is.)

Other examples of non-financial information that can be useful in determining engagement are responses to surveys. Both the fact that they responded (an additional touchpoint with the organisation) and how they responded (especially around what motivates them) are huge assets to any fundraiser. But often a survey is written and sent before deciding how to store it for a single customer view. What’s wrong with this picture?

Tip #4: Make sure someone in the fundraising team has a steer on your database
I could go on and on about databases as I really think they are a lifeline for fundraisers, and yet so often the responsibility is delegated to non-fundraisers.

While IT certainly needs to be involved, the fundraising team needs to drive the direction, as it is fundraisers and donor care teams that really use this asset.

So those are my top four database tips as a non-database expert. While terms like ‘data’ may suggest numbers and spreadsheets, what any good fundraising database represents are the people who support you and their stories of how and why they give. As a fundraiser, I struggle to think what could be a bigger asset.

Alison McCants

Fundraiser with a passion for charities. Currently Alison is Direct Marketing Manager at The Brooke, a leading UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules (all views are my own). I am a member of the Institute of Fundraising (IOF) in the UK and hold a Certificate in Fundraising Management MInstF(Cert) from the IOF.

1 Comment

Brid Hehir · February 23, 2012 at 16:03

I wrote the attached which was published yesterday.
Time to be charitable towards ‘chuggers’
Better a street in which face-to-face fundraisers are free to annoy us than one in which they have been banned.
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