Cleaning up Your Donor Database

Vol. 13 No. 7

development eletter Vol13 No7 donorfiles

To cultivate prospective donors, you, as the Development Director, can’t afford to work on instinct and hear-say. You need cold, hard facts, and a donor database gives you the data you need at a click of a finger (well, filter). Still, that database can quickly become outdated and useless without regular and thorough maintenance.

This month, while you tidy your office and home for spring cleaning, set aside some time to clean your donor database!

  • Designate a central database manager. While several people use the system and input data throughout the course of the day, having one person who's the go-to database manager will eliminate a lot of confusion created by different personal "styles." That database manager would create protocols to which everyone adheres (see the next bullet) and oversee this yearly "cleaning."
  • Standardize your record, campaign, and communication material names. If one person calls last year’s annual fund campaign “AF2014,” labeling donations accordingly, and another names it “Annual Fund ‘14,” your filters and reporting accuracy will be significantly impacted. Create a single naming standard for anyone who inputs information into the database and relabel any records that follow a different system.
  • Merge duplicate prospects. People are often entered into the database under different names (“A. Peters” vs “Alice Peters”), or even change their name altogether (“Alice Peters” marries and becomes “Alice Walker”). It’s still the same person who has built a relationship with your school—and how awkward it would be if your school were to send letters to the same person, twice!
  • Check the accuracy of information on file. Is the five-year-old mailing address you have for a donor still good? Do emails go through to your prospects, or are they bounced back? It’s no good having a well-organized database if the information it contains is simply wrong.
  • Decide which profiles are still “active.” As Development Director, you have many leads to pursue but only so much time. To use your time wisely, occasionally you should “retire” older leads you’ve not heard from in several years, despite continued attempts of communication. Call these leads one last time to re-establish ties between the donor and your school. If they don’t respond after that, it’s time to move on and file their record away.
  • Add notes to each profile’s history. While a database is traditionally a repository for quantitative data—giving levels, frequency, etc.—that doesn’t preclude qualitative data from being recorded, too. Make sure you put in general impressions of donors, their likes and dislikes, and other anecdotes for future reference. The next time that donor who likes to play saxophone on the weekends makes a gift to your school, you’ll know you can thank him by inviting him to visit the music classes one afternoon.

The Development Office thrives on data of all sorts, and there’s no better way to get your school the information it needs to succeed on its next capital campaign than ISM’s Feasibility Study. This comprehensive service will give you real dollar figures for money raised in your next capital campaign, your community’s readiness to support such a campaign, and how to overcome the obstacles we anticipate on the long road ahead. If you’re ready to start your next capital campaign, we’re ready to support you.

Additional ISM resources:
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 9 No. 8 It's Not What You Think—It's What You Know
ISM Monthly Update for Development Directors Vol. 8 No. 2 Guidelines for Maintaining Your Gift Documentation Records

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 39 No. 13 Develop a 'Culture of Data' in Your School for Strategic, Data-Driven Decision-Making

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