Donor Data: 6 Tips to Keep Your Database Organized

Jim Saunders
January 2, 2015

Keep your donor data organized with these six tips.

We all know that small things can make a big difference.

Surely you know someone who paid a big price in time, convenience, and money for neglecting routine maintenance and oil changes on their car.

If we remember to keep up routine maintenance, we can avoid this expense and keep our car running dependably for a long time. If we neglect maintenance, we risk our car coming to an unexpected screeching halt.

In much the same way, it is also a good idea to keep a maintenance schedule for your donor database in your donor management system. The effectiveness of your outreach and ability to track donors is only as good as the accuracy of your data! So make sure you do these six things to keep your data humming:

  1. Keep your donor data clean
  2. Keep your donor data lean
  3. Consolidate your donor data
  4. Segment your donor data
  5. Cut inactive donor data
  6. Standardize your donor data
  7. Review your donor data
  8. Record your donor data audits

Donor data becomes much more useful when it is clean and organized. Get your database looking shiny and new with these tips!

Keep your donor data clean to improve your fundraising.

1) Keep your donor data clean

Find and merge duplicate records, using tools in your nonprofit database. Use services such as National Change of Address to eliminate invalid information such as old mailing addresses.  You will want to do this on a regularly—more or less often depending on the size of your database. 

A good nonprofit CRM software will help you with this process by letting you easily import and export data.

Keeping your data clean and up-to-date lets you avoid the frustration of ineffective outreach and save time. It tightens many points in your nonprofit workflow by eliminating distracting and misleading data, and giving the spotlight to only the most relevant information. 

Here are some ways to keep your donor data lean.

2) Keep your donor data lean 

People underestimate the amount of mental energy that can be wasted by sifting through old, irrelevant data.

Keeping your database lean means having a dependable and deep well of information where it counts and eliminating all the other stuff that is weighing you down. 

Do you really need 5 email addresses for everyone? Ask your constituents which address they prefer you use, then delete the others! If you’re a collector, store the extra address in an area that your donor database manager provides for generic notes.  Do you really need to know the mailing address to where someone lived 5 years ago? If not, get rid of that too.

What types of data are worth keeping in your database? Here are a few examples you may not have thought of:

  • Association and household data. Knowing about the close people in a donor's life allows you to cut down on duplicate mail keep your outreach efficient.
  • Relevant documents. Attaching documents such as past correspondences, donation receipts, and membership forms to your donor profiles cuts down on time spent tracking these sorts of files down.
  • Photos. Attaching photos to donor profiles in your donor database software adds a visual element of organization and keeps your database from looking like a wall of text. This can drastically decrease the time it takes to scan the database and assess information. 

Knowing what donor data is important enough to include and what data to eliminate can take some practice, but it is well worth it to keep your database clean and organized.

Consolidate your donor data so it is easy to access.

3) Consolidate your donor data

Many nonprofits and other organizations muddy their donor data unnecessarily by keeping it in multiple separate documents or files. Instead, use a nonprofit CRM that lets you record and store all your donor data in one central location. This is one of the crucial steps to deleting and merging outdated and duplicate information.

This perk makes it easy to segment, target, and report without needing to consult multiple databases. The first step to cleaning up your digital mess is to constrain it to one program; then, you can go about organizing it and trimming the fat.

Keeping all your data in one place means robust donor profiles that give you a full picture of each donor. Use these detailed profiles to improve strategy and outreach and create segmented donor lists.

Create segmented groups with your donor data.

4) Segment your donor data 

Having all your donor data in one place comes with the added benefit of allowing you to create catered donor lists that come in handy in a variety of situations. 

The criteria you choose to create these lists can be as broad or as specific as your want—it depends on the needs of your nonprofit. Some possible criteria include:

  • Gender
  • Professional industry
  • Region
  • Religious affiliation
  • Political affiliation
  • Preferred giving channels
  • Last donation date
  • First donation date
  • Number of contributions made

Ultimately, it is up to you to cater your donor list to fit your fundraising strategies and efforts. But donor segmentation is a must, adding convenience and speed to many daily nonprofit activities.

Eliminate old donor data and keep only relevant information.

5) Cut inactive donor data

Decide how long to keep inactive constituents. Send one last special appeal or make a phone call to the constituent who gave years ago, but has subsequently ignored several newsletters and appeals. If they do not respond, delete their record.  If there are records without donations, find a clear way to identify them as “Prospects-2017,” “Strategic Partner,” etc. Then, maybe in December of 2018, review all “Prospects-2017” who have yet to donate.

Having a clear protocol for cleaning and updating donor data ensures neither you nor your staff will waste time double-checking inconsistent information. It also makes your database much more easily searchable and exportable.

Annual Development Plan Checklist

Standardize the way you format your donor data.

6) Standardize your donor data

If you add notes to your records, or segment constituents into groups, use standardized language. For example, create groups such as “Golfer-2012,”“Golfer-2013,” et cetera rather than “2012/Golfed,”“Golf Outing ’13,” et cetera. If you use notes on records, work to standardize them as well. Finding and sorting data will be much easier.

While the formatting of your data is secondary to the information itself, poor formatting conventions can render much of that important data useless. 

You may think that you will always understand the notes you took in the past, but what about your staff? Creating a clear and standardized system cuts down on any miscommunication that may occur in the nonprofit workflow, streamlining your fundraising efforts. 

By providing your staff with even a minimal amount of training in your record keeping conventions, you can create a database that is easy to read and to use for many years to come. 

Go back and review  your donor data regularly.

7) Review your donor data

Pick a number of records to review on a regular basis; set aside time to do a full intensive review of your top ten donors. Call each donor to confirm their address, phone number, and relationships that you have on file.  Similarly, set aside time to contact the top ten donors from the last few year who have not donated recently.

This is one of the most effective ways to clean and organize your donor data for maximum efficiency. It keeps you in touch with past and current donors alike while cutting down on extraneous information in your database. 

These are not the only types of donor data audits you can perform to keep tabs on your data. Customize this technique to fit into your organization's efforts and concerns, and you will find that your data causes you much less anxiety than it has in the past.

Keep a detailed record every time you audit your donor data.

8) Record your donor data audits

Whenever you perform these audits, track them by date and type of audit. This way, if an important piece of data ever goes missing, you know when it may have been moved and can look for it in archives or past document versions. Finally, can solve the classic pack-rat's dilemma of how to stay tidy and organized without throwing out too much.

In addition, it feels good to be able to look back and see your success. This is often an incentive to do more. For example, before/after every cleaning session, log the total number of records, total number of possible duplicates on a spreadsheet. Effectively track donors and constituents by name and number when you do a personal audit.

With these donor data improvement techniques, you will find that your database is much cleaner and more streamlined than it has ever been. 

If you want to unlock more supporter management and fundraising tips, check out these additional resources:

Personalized Demo Salsa CRM

Topics: Donor Management
Get a Salsa Demo

Get a Personalized Demo Today!

Smart Engagment Tools for Today’s Nonprofits

Download Now!