5 key strategies to help you maintain a good donor database

You’ve probably heard the saying “garbage in, garbage out.”
Nothing could be truer when it comes to your donor database. Incorrect or missing donor information will result in wasted money and time and missed opportunities for giving.

“You want to treat your donor or mail lists like living things,” notes Mike Green, general manager for Oregon Printing. “They need ongoing attention to yield the best results.”

Donors are active these days — they move often and change jobs more frequently than ever before. Regularly staying on top of this data, especially if your fundraising campaign is kicking off at year’s end, is key to staying unburdened with the task of making these updates at the last minute.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? Wrong. Spending just minutes each day to maintain your data can translate into a less stressful and more successful fundraising campaign. Here’s how:

  1. Establish a robust, detailed database at the onset that captures data in a consistent and useful manner. For example, segment first and last names for more personalized mailings. Use a consistent approach to spelling out address details like Avenue or Road versus Ave. or Rd. Format donation dates and phone numbers the same way throughout your database. Watch out for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors. Spelling a recipient’s name wrong can be a real turnoff to a potential donor and worse, it can mean no donation.
  2. Correct addresses — email, social media, and mailing — and remove deceased donors as soon as you’re notified of an update. Don’t put this information in a to-do file — it’s much easier and more efficient to do this daily or weekly. Plus, it’s crucial you don’t upset someone by sending mail to a loved one who’s passed away. Periodically running your list through the National Change of Address (NCOA) can help you capture new addresses for donors. The NCOA keeps change-of-address information on file for 48 months in the U.S.
  3. Record donor communication preferences. Some donors prefer to be contacted strictly via email while others prefer phone calls. And while we’re living in a digital age where PDFs and digital communication seems to reign supreme, some donors still like to receive something tangible in the mail. Knowing these details about your donors will help make your campaign more effective.
  4. Remove donors who haven’t given in three or more years. It’s unlikely they will start to give if they haven’t already done so. This will save printing and mailing costs and help you target donors with more potential to give.
  5. Work with your print vendor to help identify demographics in your donor list. “We have donor acquisition software that’s effective for helping you understand who you should be targeting and identifying similar donors based on those demographics,” explains Mike. “We can run your list through our software to capture potential donors with similar demographics.”

Finally, because your donor or mail list is a living thing, you’ll want to do an “autopsy” after your campaign has ended, explains Green. Add the amounts your donors gave or didn’t give during the campaign, so you have segmentation data available for future campaigns. Having this history will help you understand a donor’s propensity for giving and how to personalize messages for future campaigns.

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