HBG Researcher Heather Hoke shares some great words of advice on making the most of our organizations’ most valuable assets in this week’s feature article.
“Don’t gather data first and think about how to use it later!”
I was talking on the phone in April with Tommy Tavenner, Data Strategy Lead at the National Wildlife Federation, to get his perspective on data integrity when he said that. After I hung up the phone and for a few days later, his words kept resonating in my mind.
I have found myself sometimes overwhelmed with information and asking myself “What is important here?” “What amongst all of this information will advance our fundraising?” and “Just what is meaningful data?” But when Tommy said that, it really snapped together – how important it is to have an organizational conversation about our data and what we need to do with it to achieve our goals.
Your fundraising database is probably your development office’s most valuable non-human asset. Data quality drives our ability to interact meaningfully with donors and prospects. It also helps us understand who they are. A database that contains useful and robust information is crucial for successful fundraising!
Getting the most from your database requires a commitment to data collection, data quality and data management. The summer months can be a great time to organize your database to make sure your data is as accurate and useful as possible. It’s especially critical when you start thinking about a future data analytics and/or prospect identification project.
What are the top things to do to organize your donor database?
1.) Determine your business needs. Do you want to use your database for reporting, to create donor profiles, segment donors, for a future campaign, prospect management, for a donor screening or data analytics? Senior development staff, fundraisers, development research, database/IT staff should all be involved here to map out what your needs are.
2.) Identify the problem areas in your database. The most common issues are duplicate records and incorrect data such as misspelled names and outdated addresses. Your first focus should be on establishing a database with accurate donor names and addresses. Besides doing a National Change of Address update, consider using tools to aid in capturing data consistently, such as making specific field entry required, and auto-formatting for emails and phone numbers. Tip from Tommy: SmartyStreets can convert addresses into the proper USPS-preferred format.
3.) Prioritize data that informs fundraising. Not every piece of information is critical to keep in a database. Ask yourself: “how can this piece of data inform fundraising?” Data that takes priority includes information that helps fundraisers make decisions and take action with a donor. This includes phone numbers, email, the history of communications with the donor, gift information (including past giving, what they gave to, when they gave), and demographic information. To help you prioritize your data, remember you can’t communicate with a donor if you don’t know who they are and where they are.
4.) Determine where you are going to put information in your database. Organize around how the data is going to be used. Working toward the goal you determined in #1, determine where to enter information into your database to be able to retrieve it in a way that is useful to you.
Let’s say your goal is to create a donor profile from the database. Rather than entering paragraphs of text into a notes field, you can take pieces of information such as business affiliations and put each of them into fields that you can retrieve with a query. Sometimes working within the limitations of a database and its reporting capabilities can actually help you be more creative or succinct.
5.) Standardize and document your processes for data. Even if your database contains thousands of records, it is not too late to start a standardized data entry system. Establish consistent definitions for data entry, then create a process document. Update the document as processes are changed and be sure to share it with all staff that enter donor information.
How does the data you collect meet your business needs? Taking the time to organize your database is certainly an investment worth making to optimize your fundraising efforts!