You have set your goals, have calendared out your big events, and thought through strategies for stewarding top prospects for your nonprofit. 2020 is set to be a strong fundraising year! But before you dive too far into the year, take some time to ensure you are starting the year with clean data.
Not sure where to start? Here are five tips to get your database in prime condition:
- Junk in, junk out. We cannot stress this enough. Your database is only as valuable as the quality of the data entry. If the data is being entered lackadaisically and details are being skipped or misinterpreted and entered incorrectly, your database quickly becomes useless for meaningful analysis and unreliable for queries. When this goes on unchecked for some time, we often see staff creating sub databases that serve their work. This is a poor use of staff time and creates a significant risk for data loss.
- Data can be descriptive and interpreted many ways without structure, training, and oversight. Data isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Whoever is doing your entry is making many best-guesses as they input. For example, many nonprofits receive direct mail responses from elderly individuals whose handwriting can be difficult to read. If your data entry team lacks context, they are likely to guess incorrectly. The individual or team that does your data entry should be given clear expectations, regular training, and should be audited for accuracy regularly. This is possible even if your database is managed by a volunteer with a regular check in conversation and occasional quality checks.
- Connect your data entry staff, volunteer, or team with your leadership who run the reports. You would be surprised to find out how few data entry team members understand how the data is intended to be used. They can often make constructive suggestions on better outputs or alternatively, can adjust how they input data to give you more meaningful info. For example, explaining the remittance strategy to the full team can ensure that those who are entering the data pick up on how donors are responding. Donors often submit doodles or notes with their gifts, or underline certain language. Your data team is the best on the ground resource to quickly share that perspective as you craft future asks.
- Validate your address data directly with the USPS, or a service that pulls the USPS data directly into your database every quarter. Not only is this likely to save you lots of returned mail, it is also a way to keep your cost down. If you standardize your data with USPS standards, your nonprofit will have the opportunity to mail at the nonprofit bulk postage rate as well. On a similar note, be sure to track your rate of returned mail for two weeks after each discrete mailing as an indicator of the health of your database.
- Update each profile based off data indicators on the responses. Change their name to how they spell it, make a note if they underline, circle, or heart a program description. Reviewing returned mail is a great way to prospect for legacy donors who often indicate that they have put the charity in their will or estate plans. While these types of legacy gifts will not “count” towards best practice fundraising goals as they are revocable, the knowledge allows you to better steward the donor and potentially increase the gift size or find an opportunity for another life-gift sooner.
Lastly, as your database team imports the last of 2019 gifts, now is the perfect time to run your LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports if you didn’t already run them heading into the fourth quarter. Need a refresher of what those reports are and why they can be helpful? Take a look at this article on mining your database.
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