Tips for Managing Donor Data

Congratulations to all our nonprofits that participated in last week’s fifth annual #GivingTuesday! Nationwide it was a rousing success: According to Blackbaud, online giving revenue was up 20% compared to Giving Tuesday 2015, fueled by a 33% increase in the number of nonprofits receiving online donations.

With December campaigns well underway, you’ve probably noticed year-end giving pulls in a wider range of gift sizes than the rest of the year. This means plenty of new donors…and with that, an influx of new donor data.

If you don’t have donor data management procedures and software in place, this can be a stressful time. Invaluable information can fall through the cracks, weakening current and future fundraising efforts.

On the other hand, storing donor data correctly and efficiently as it comes in can improve results for years to come.

Fact is, almost every single fundraising campaign nonprofits execute revolves around donor data.

By keeping a robust and accurate set of data—and knowing how to leverage that information—your organization can better get to know your donors and ultimately improve fundraising.

In this article we’ll cover 6 practical steps to take the stress and worry out of donor data management. Learn how to:

  1. Use a donor database.
  2. Integrate your database with other fundraising software.
  3. Devise standardized data entry procedures.
  4. Clearly delineate data entry tasks.
  5. Segment your list.
  6. Clean your database once a year.

Best of all, you don’t need to be a professional data analyst to implement these simple best practices. So, let’s get started!

1. Use a donor database.

Use a Donor Database

Effective donor data management starts with using the right tools. Luckily, there’s software out there built to help nonprofits manage supporter information: donor databases.

Using a donor database, you can build comprehensive supporter profiles to track any data source imaginable. This gives you a clearer, multifacted picture of the people that care about your cause.

Some common data to track:

  • Basic demographic and contact information
  • Familial, professional, organizational, and other types of relationships
  • Giving history, event attendance, online engagement, and other interactions with your organization
  • Interests and affinities
  • And much more.

Most platforms will also allow you to add custom fields and notes, so you can track the unique information most important to your organization.

Maintain a centralized database for your charity donor informationThere are many benefits of using donor databases over other types of data management systems, but perhaps the biggest is the fact that data is centralized.

Because all donor data is housed in the same platform, all data sources can communicate with each other. The result: You’ll have a 360º view of your donors – plus a much easier time keeping data organized.

The right data can reveal donors’ preferred communication channels and opportunities most likely to mobilize them to support your cause. Once you understand your donors better, you’ve built deeper donor relationships and laid the foundation for repeat recurring giving.

If your nonprofit isn’t using a donor database yet, consider finding one that’s right for you.

→ To sum up: By providing a central platform for tracking all data, donor databases make it easier for nonprofits to keep data organized and accurate, helping them approach their donors more insightfully and achieve better fundraising results.

2. Integrate your donor database with other fundraising software.

Integrate your donor database with other fundraising software

While donor databases are comprehensive fundraising solutions, sometimes they still need to be supplemented by more specialized types of fundraising software.

For example, if your organization is big on hosting events, you might need to use event-planning software (like Winspire’s interactive charity auction organizer, Checklist Builder). If you were running a peer-to-peer campaign, you’d need a peer-to-peer platform.

If this happens to be the case for your organization, you’ll want to look for software solutions that can support fluid integrations with your donor database (and vice versa).

Integrate multiple software platforms for an optimal donor database systemBy integrating your software, all data that your organization receives from your other fundraising software platforms will automatically be culled into your donor database.

This automation greatly reduces room for error when it comes to data entry, and you’ll be able to better stay on top of recording the new data you receive in your donor profiles.

Up-to-date, comprehensive data gives your organization the most accurate and detailed insights into your supporters possible.

→ To sum up: Integrating your fundraising software allows your organization to automatically collect new donor data you receive. Automation reduces the frequency of recording errors and provides you with a more current set of data.


3. Devise standardized data entry procedures.

Devise standardized data entry proceduresNow that we’ve covered data management tools, it’s time to get down to strategy.

The data management process starts with entering data into your donor database or other data management system.

To ensure you have the cleanest set of data from the outset, it’s important that you and your staff devise a standardized set of data entry procedures.

Many data sources can be entered in various ways. Agreeing on standardized entry or formatting procedures simply means putting guidelines in place for how you want to record various data points.

For example, decide if you’ll…

  • Write phone numbers (123) 456-7890, 1234567890, or 123-456-7890
  • Write titles as “Ms” or “Ms.”
  • Leave empty data fields blank or fill them with some kind of placeholder

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but you get the idea.

When outlining a set of procedures, try to think about any data source that could be formatted in more than one way.

Ensure consistent data entry into your donor databaseOnce you and your staff have agreed upon the standards, compile them in a “cheat sheet” for staff to consult. This should be a working document (like a collaborative Google Doc) that can quickly be updated if you run into new sources of potential discrepancies.

Why is this important? Consistent data entry ensures information is easily retrievable for your staff. If they know exactly what to look for, it will be much easier to find.

Not only will your staff have a more intuitive and complete set of data to draw from, but you’ll also reduce room for error in donor communications.

Additionally, standardized data makes it much easier for new staff members to learn your database if and when duties change hands.

→ To sum up: Start data management off on the right foot by creating a set of standardized procedures for entry. With a cleaner database from the outset, retrieving and using data for fundraising efforts will be a more straightforward and accurate process.

4. Clearly delineate data entry tasks.

Clearly delineate data entry tasks

Another way to prevent errors in data entry is to limit the number of staff members entering data.

The more people that deal with data, the greater your margin of error.

I know for many organizations it would be difficult, if not impossible, to assign all data entry to just one staff member. However, you can still keep the number of people entering data to a minimum.

Then, just as importantly – each person entering data should have clearly defined tasks. Delineate focused roles and avoid overlap as much as possible.

Example: Say your major gifts officer, events coordinator, and marketing coordinator are all involved in data entry. Your major gifts officer could be in charge of entering data received through your major gifts program; your events coordinator could handle data from fundraising events; and your marketing coordinator could input data from digital outreach.

While there’s bound to be some overlap (digital outreach about events, for example, might be a gray area), for the most part, each person has clear and separate duties.

Delineating data tasks and limiting the number of staff entering data will greatly reduce the instances of duplicate entries, leading to a cleaner database.

And the more accurate your data is, the more effectively you’ll be able to fundraise.

→ To sum up: Just as important as how data is entered is who enters that data. To cultivate the cleanest database – with the greatest chance of fundraising success – assign data entry to just a few staff members and avoid task overlap .

5. Segment your list.

Segment your list

Once you have data entered into your database, it’s time to start using it!

Use data to help develop personalized outreach and stewardship strategies for each donor.

Personalized approach to donor outreachTaking an individualized approach to each of your donors means targeting them with personally meaningful opportunities through their preferred outreach channels.

A personalized approach leads to deeper and longer-lasting donor relationships. As you send relevant content, donors will know that you value more than just the potential funding they could provide.

The problem lies in the fact that many organizations have no way to effectively execute multiple outreach strategies.

That’s where your donor database comes in.

You can use it to segment your donor base into different lists based on any of the data fields you have listed in the platform, making it much easier to target groups with different outreach strategies.

For example, if you’re planning a fundraising event and you only want to send information about the event to donors in your area. You could segment your list based on geography to ensure event communications are only sent to the donors who could realistically attend.

Segmenting your list leads to about 65% more responses to your email outreach. For simple ideas to segment and target your messaging, see:


→ To sum up: Segmenting your list will make it easier for your organization to provide donors with a more personalized experience with your nonprofit, resulting in longer lasting relationships and improved fundraising.


6. Clean your database once a year.

Clean your database once a year

Donor Database Upkeep for NonprofitsThe final part of donor data management is upkeep.

In order to maintain a lean clean data, it’s important to set aside a time each year that’s dedicated to cleaning your database. Otherwise, it can be all too easy to sweep cleaning under the rug (pun intended!).

When running annual cleaning, be sure to:

  • Delete duplicate records (many databases include automated de-duping features).
  • Erase any information that’s obviously incorrect or out-of-date.
  • Send donors an email blast asking them to update their contact information, and add any changes to your database.
  • Standardize any entries that aren’t in line with your entry protocols.
  • Get rid of records for donors who have been inactive for 2+ years.

Regularly cleaning your database ensures that you’ll always have the most accurate and up-to-date set of data to reference.

→ To sum up: By dedicating one block of time a year to cleaning your database, your organization will build a more precise and current set of data. The more accurate your data is, the more effectively you’ll be able to reach out to your donors.


What steps does your organization take to achieve better donor data management? Let us know in the comments below!

Jeff-Gordy-headshot .pngToday’s post is by Jeff Gordy, Co-Founder and CEO of Z2 Systems, Inc., the makers of NeonCRM for nonprofits. Jeff has been working with his team for the last 12 years on building the optimal fundraising, CRM database and marketing solution for nonprofits. Before starting the company, Jeff worked for the Kidney Cancer Association. He knew that nonprofits needed better software solutions to help with their many challenges.