As a nonprofit, you know firsthand how difficult it can be to keep up with managing your donor data, especially with a base of hundreds or thousands of supporters.

However, keeping your donor data clean, accurate, and up-to-date couldn’t be more important.

Considering that most of your efforts revolve around your donors, you’re going to need to rely on this data regularly for your organization to operate to the best of your ability.

Whether it be for your annual giving efforts or your major donor campaign, properly managing your data can really set the stage for fundraising success!

In this article, I’ll cover 6 relatively straightforward and actionable tips that can help you more effectively manage your data. We’ll discuss these topics:

  1. Enlist the help of a donor database.
  2. Standardize data entry.
  3. Limit the amount of people entering data.
  4. Segment your list.
  5. Have an annual “spring cleaning”.
  6. Make sure you have a backup.

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll see that with just a little bit of planning and upkeep, data management isn’t as intimidating as it might at first seem.

Now let’s delve into data!

1. Enlist the help of a donor database.

In order to effectively manage your donor data, your organization will need the right tools.

The handiest tool in your data management arsenal will be a donor database.

For those organizations who haven’t yet started using them, donor databases—also known as nonprofit CRMs—are a nonprofit software solution that enable organizations to track all constituent information in one platform.

The most robust databases should let you record any piece of constituent data your organization might need. For example, you could track your donors’:

  • Basic biographical information.
  • E-mail addresses, phone numbers, and other contact info.
  • Family, household, corporate, and other relationships.
  • Past donations, volunteer work, and other interactions with your organization.
  • Interests and affinities.
  • And much more.

Many platforms even allow you to add custom fields and notes so that you can keep track of the unique information that’s most relevant to your organization.

Perhaps the main benefit of donor databases is that they allow nonprofits to get a more comprehensive view of their donors. Because all data sources are tracked in the same platform, they can inform each other to give organizations deeper insights that will help them better target their donors.

Being able to track all data in one place means that your data management will be a whole lot easier, too.

When using a donor database, your organization will no longer have to worry about switching between platforms to record all of your data. You’ll also no longer have to transfer data between different interfaces, which aside from being a huge hassle, can leave much more room for error in your records.

Instead, recording and consulting your data is as easy as accessing one, centralized system. Oftentimes, your organization won’t even have to manually enter any data.

In fact, nonprofit CRMs can be integrated with a range of other software and services (and even your website!) so that, if you do end up needing to cull data from different interfaces, it will automatically filter into your CRM.

In summary: Donor databases were especially built to make donor data management simpler for nonprofits. Consider looking into purchasing one if your organization isn’t already using one.

Bonus: Want to learn more about donor databases? Check out Neon’s Buyer’s Guide!

2. Standardize data entry.

Now that you have the right tools, it’s time to get down to strategy.

We’ll start at the beginning: entering donor data into your nonprofit CRM (or whichever other data management system your organization might be using).

In order to manage your data most effectively, your organization should have a clearly defined and standardized process in place for data entry.

If your organization has already been recording data willy-nilly, don’t worry. It’s never too late to start standardizing your data entry. You’ll eventually need to go back and standardize your old records, anyway, so the sooner you can start, the better.

The way you standardize will depend on how you use your data and what makes the most sense for your organization.

However, you’ll want to make sure you have all your bases covered. You don’t want to enter dozens or hundreds of donor records after your fundraiser only to realize that your staff all recorded the same information in a different way!

As nitpicky as it might seem, there should be a hard and fast rule for every type of data that could be entered in multiple ways (and most of them can).

For example, will you...

  • List donors by given name or preferred name?
  • Format phone numbers as (123) 456-789, 123-456-789, or 123456789?
  • Leave empty or missing fields blank or fill them with a placeholder?

I’ll stop there, but the list goes on.

So, why exactly is standardized data entry so important?

The more standardized your data entry is, the more structured and intuitive your database will be.

When all of your data is formatted the same way, it will be much easier to go into your database and access the information you need, since you’ll know exactly what to look for. It also prevents confusion among your staff and leaves less room for error when it comes to your donor outreach.

When you standardize your data, your operations will be much more efficient!

In summary: Having definitive rules in place for data entry will make it easier to consult the data you need and ensures that your staff are all on the same page.

3. Limit the amount of people entering data.

Another way to ensure that your data entry process is standardized is to keep the amount of people entering data to a minimum.

Ideally, this effort should be allocated to one staff member. However, this scenario isn’t always realistic, especially if you have a lot of donor data to stay on top of.

If you do have to assign this effort to more than one person, try to delineate tasks as much as possible. No two staff members should be in charge of inserting the same data.

For example, your major gifts officer could be in charge of inserting the data you receive from your capital campaign, while your event chair could be in charge of recording the data you collect from your fundraising events.

If only one or two of your staff members are entering data, your organization is far less likely to see duplicate entries and recording errors.

Additionally, you should make sure that everyone assigned to this effort is properly trained on data entry procedures and your donor database before starting.

When your staff are familiar with your platform and processes, data entry will go much more smoothly, and you’ll be able to start cultivating a more structured database sooner.

In summary: Assigning data entry to just one or two staff members will make it much easier for your nonprofit to keep your database organized.

4. Segment your list.

Donor databases aren’t just great for recording donor data. They’re also the perfect place to record information about your other constituents, too.

Some of these constituents could include:

  • Volunteers
  • Members
  • Board members
  • Employees
  • Media contacts
  • And more!

You might need more specialized software to effectively manage your relationships with some of these constituents (for example, if you have an extensive membership program, you might need the help of association management software).

However, entering them into your donor database ensures that all of your data will be standardized and that you can more clearly see how all of your constituents relate to each other.

The problem lies in the fact that you’ll need to handle your relationships with each of these constituents differently. In fact, you’ll likely still need to take a different approach with your donors!

And that brings me to the topic at hand: segmenting your list.

Segmenting your list refers to breaking up your constituent base into smaller categories. The way you choose to break down your list depends on which constituent categories are most pertinent to your organization.

It’s fairly easy to segment your list if you’re using a donor database. You can split out your supporters based on any of the data fields in your constituent profiles.

Breaking your list down into more digestible categories will make it easier for your organization to stay on top of data management.

You’ll also reduce the risk of inadvertently offending one of your donors, since you’ll be better able to target your base with individualized outreach strategies.

In summary: Segmenting your list simplifies data management for your organization and provides your donors with a more personalized outreach experience.

5. Have an annual “spring cleaning”.

You’ve set up your database, standardized your data entry, and segmented your list.

Now it’s time to talk about upkeep.

Unfortunately, no matter how airtight your data entry processes are or how well trained your staff is on your database, there are still bound to be errors in your data.

It’s only natural. We’re all human, and we’re not perfect.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should simply stand by and accept that fact that your data is imperfect. You should be striving for the most accurate database out there!

That’s why it’s important to have an annual “spring cleaning” during which—you guessed it—your organization focuses on cleaning up your database.

Spring cleaning doesn’t even have to be in spring. All that’s important is that your organization sets aside a time once a year to give your database a little TLC.

During spring cleaning, you should be focused on these tasks:

  • Removing duplicate entries.
  • Eliminating profiles of constituents who have been inactive for over two years.
  • Standardizing any aberrant entries.
  • Deleting out-of-date or superfluous information.
  • Updating constituents’ contact information (it can be helpful to send out an email blast once a year asking your base to re-confirm their information).

Regularly cleaning your base ensures that it’s as accurate and up-to-date as possible and that upkeep is always manageable.

Additionally, if you have any major errors in your data entry procedures or in the data itself, you’ll be able to correct them before your organization gets too far off track.

In summary: When you set aside time to clean your database annually, your organization will have a more organized and precise set of data to draw from.

6. Make sure you have a backup.

As I touched on earlier, your donor data will be key to your organization’s success.

I’m willing to bet that you rely on it daily to help you:

  • Practice better stewardship,
  • Make more out of your fundraising,
  • And keep your operations running efficiently.

If something were to happen to your donor data, your organization would definitely take a hit. You wouldn’t be able to function at top speed and keep doing the amazing work you do.

Luckily, this unfortunate scenario is completely avoidable. All it takes is making sure that you have a backup of your constituent data.

With your nonprofit CRM, creating a backup should be as easy as exporting your data and saving it externally.

Seeing as you’re probably frequently adding or adjusting data, your organization should be backing up its data regularly.

You can either set a schedule for when you’ll make a new backup or simply create a backup every time you’ve made a significant change to your database.

That way, if your data were to be lost or corrupted in some way, your organization could keep on keeping on without skipping a beat!

In summary: Keeping up-to-date backups ensures that if you do ever lose your donor data for some reason, you’ll have a record to fall back on.

Bonus: Read WealthEngine’s article on compounding loss from data quality issues.

What steps has your organization taken to better manage your donor data? Are there any strategies you’ve found particularly useful? Let me know in the comments!

Jeff Gordy is the 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 and knew that nonprofits needed better software solutions to help with their many challenges.

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