Creating an Effective Database

As the last post documented, focusing on expanding your email list alone will probably not lead to more donors and volunteers. Effective nonprofits segment their database and focus on their best prospects. Who are the emerging leaders? Who are the ones most likely to donate the most?

First, alumni are often the organization’s best spokespersons and donors but only if they are asked. Successful organizations create a system to engage clients after the organization’s services fulfill the need. Ask alumni to become mentors, evaluate and suggest potential improvements, and identify organizations to collaborate with to improve and expand services.

Further, don’t assume past clients cannot afford or are not ready to donate. Often those in the lower income groups donate a higher percentage of their incomes than wealthy individuals. Giving back is a sign of success. Many former clients want to support those that are in a similar position that they were once in. Small gifts add up and create a strong foundation for an expanded individual giving program.

Second, reach out throughout the organization to identify potential new volunteers and add them to the development database. In many nonprofit organizations, interested parties (clients, alumni, and potential volunteers) engage with the nonprofit through many different channels and often not the development or communications departments. Once a potential new person is identified, or a current volunteer changes their contact info, the information needs to be communicated to other departments.

Third, consider the tools used to keep track of leaders and donors. Often organizations have two separate databases, one for donors and another for clients. Databases are only as good as the information they contain and what they contain depends on who inputs the data. Creating consistent systems for identifying and adding potential donors decreases the number of duplicates and ensures effective segmentation of the data.

Creating a single staff position responsible for adding people to the database is a good start but what happens when that person leaves or is promoted to a new position?  Create policies, procedures, and systems for adding people to the donor database and run a duplicate report on a regular basis to see if the system is working.

Most database companies charge nonprofits depending on the number of records in the database, therefore many nonprofits delay adding new records as the number of records nears the next pricing level. This only leads to complications, inevitable loses of potential volunteers and donors, duplicates, and additional work once the donors are finally entered. Instead celebrate the successful new system and continue on track.

Complicating matters, often each department or staff member has her own excel list of volunteers and leaders. Instead of everyone creating their own spreadsheet, each department should ask database staff to segment and regularly create updated reports. Once all of the departments depend on the same database, they will focus on providing relevant information and updates. Further, by understanding how the organization uses the data and why volunteers are involved, data segmentation will be more logical and the communication will be more likely to engage.

Finally, too much segmentation can hinder and complicate report generation. Instead remember the goal of segmentation is to identify volunteer interests and ability to donate. How they were engaged is only important if it helps identify what kind of communication the person is interested in receiving.

Now that the database is a systematic tool that includes donors, likely donors and volunteers, we will explore the next step: efficient and effective communication protocols that inform, engage, and lead to more active volunteers and larger donations.


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