Steward or Stalker? Collecting Donor Data
Do we need to collect every data point about donors?
The scandalous news about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica is bringing all our tech fears to the fore. When everything is “data-driven” these days – from apps to entertainment, and even journalism – how can nonprofits walk the line between research and invasion of privacy?
Being a data-driven nonprofit means that your actions (including communications and services) have some sort of built-in ability to track donor behavior and course-correct based on whether you succeed in hitting goals or benchmarks.That’s usually in the form of finding how many donations arrive in response to a mailing, or tracking who opens your newsletter.
There is, however, a limit to the amount of data a nonprofit needs and, more importantly, the kinds of data collected. What data are nonprofits justified in collecting, and how much?
Contact vs. personal information
We all collect donors’ contact information, and try to collect new contacts even if (or especially when) people don’t donate.
It’s a fine line between research and prying – we’ve all been at that line, and it’s easy to get distracted when we track or look for actions that aren’t directly relevant to fundraising.
Take geographic information, for example. Country, state or city, even zip codes – plus a little research or personal knowledge – can help you make a very focused pitch targeting local priorities. Consider asking a board member to sign letters delivered in their zip code, where folks might recognize their name.
You wouldn’t want to get too specific, though. You may be able to find a donor’s family information, but if it’s not something appropriate for you to use, and if it’s not really going to help your solicitation, there’s no reason to keep that information on file.
So what data can you use?
Prospect Research is important
At PDA, we value our clients’ missions and believe that effective fundraising identifies donors who take pride in supporting them. Donors deserve to actively benefit from their support of charitable causes, and when worthy organizations really resonate with those donors it is a truly positive and world-changing partnership.
In order to do effective fundraising, it’s essential to do research on prospective donors to find where their personal priorities intersect with your nonprofit’s goals.
This research requires judgment calls about what information is sensitive or pertinent.
It’s so important that the 3rd party research tools you use are transparent about how they get their information. With due diligence, be sure to confirm any third-party research databases you use are using public information sources.
Once donations are made, acknowledgment is always a top priority. We also want to know how much we’ve raised for certain kinds of appeals, or for how many years a donor has been giving.
We want our donors to give repeatedly, so it’s important to track their giving history over time, and know a donor’s priorities.
When we collect data it can easily turn into a tangle of donation history. When you gather information, assess whether you’re getting to know your donors better, or whether you’re just ticking boxes.
When we collect information like how long someone has been giving, or what appeals they tend to give to, that knowledge often stays locked in the database or in the head of the fundraiser. What we often forget to do is act on that information we collect – you can have data, but if you don’t use it you’re wasting your effort. Good data management turns data into real-world actions.
A perfect example is in direct mail and email campaigns. We often personalize these kinds of solicitations using a mail merge function to get each donor’s name in the letter – “Dear Friend”, for example. We could just as easily add a sentence that says, “As a donor of over 3 years…” or “Your support for the past 6 years…” to really drive home the personal impact they’ve had on your cause.
One really nice way to thank donors is to send them a “happy anniversary” note: a card or a letter describing some of the programs or services their donations have been put towards in a year of giving. Has a donor reached a decade of giving? Send a letter signed by all the board members, or a special picture of the donor doing something personally at your organization.
Another milestone that you can easily mark is when a donor has given over a certain amount of money. Even if it’s just $100, send an email or a card that says “THANK YOU! You’ve just become a Patron Level donor thanks to your most recent gift of $20. You have given $108 since 2014, and we are so grateful for your support.”
These are examples of making practical – and appropriate – use of data that donors have willingly given to you.
What do you already know?
Other types of data we track (obsessively) are funds, appeals, campaigns, drives, solicitations, mailings, holidays…all the reasons we ask for donations, and ways we categorize what we receive. We track for reporting purposes and to measure the success of a campaign.
Just as in fashion, sometimes you wear the outfit, and sometimes the outfit wears you. When it comes to your data, are you collecting information that will help you reach your goals? Or are you gathering data for data’s sake?
Another, often-neglected part of data health is how long to keep records. If you’re storing information about who didn’t open an email campaign 5 years ago, that’s pretty stale stuff, and it’s OK to purge it from your CRM.
Just because you’ve “always” tracked a certain kind of information, or tracked in a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to bend new information to fit into those categories.
Consider changes to your donor base, or how your services have changed, or whether your donations are done increasingly online. These changes can show you new sources of funding, or new ways to group your donors or new avenues of interest that will keep donors interested.
Plenty of practical information comes from observing and analyzing trends in donations, without depending on hidden tracking like cookies or in-app triggers.
Tips: Manage Your Data
How do you make sense of the donor data you gather? A good CRM (Customer/Client Relationship Management system) can help.
What should your CRM do?
Help you fundraise
A good CRM helps you get to know your donors. Aside from contributing to bookkeeping, a CRM should give you a place to input the information you gather from your face-to-face meetings and events. Your CRM should help you understand what your donors’ priorities are. A good CRM will help you make practical sense of what information you gather, by showing patterns through readable reports.
Be PCI compliant
Nonprofits need to be concerned about Personal Credit Information (PCI) and User Privacy. Your CRM should provide you with clear information on how, if at all, it handles donor payment or personal information. Credit card information should never be stored in the same place as contact information, in order to prevent identity theft. Pick a CRM that will help you maintain PCI compliance and protect your donation information. Your data is, after all, information about the individuals who give to your organization.
If you’re using local software (i.e. you download it to one computer), you are responsible for keeping the data secure. If you’re using a cloud-based platform, the host company is responsible. Unless you’ve got a lot of resources to put towards data security or have an organizational infrastructure that is built to protect your data, it may make more sense to use an outside platform to host and manage your data.
It’s never easy to guarantee data safety. However, having a cloud-based CRM, with high-level security measures, reduces the likelihood of being hacked. Companies whose core service is data management spend a lot of their time and resources on making their platforms secure. Look closely at your CRM’s security standards and liability coverage.
So many fundraisers get swamped with admin tasks, losing time with supporters and prospective donors. Automation is a function that lets a database handle rote tasks for you. For example, when someone makes a donation online, an automated system will trigger a receipt email, a thank-you email, record the donation amount and save the contact information. This frees up your time, reduces human error, and is immune to forgetfulness.
No two databases are alike, and any CRM worth its salt will give you room to make important customizations. Depending on your organization’s service area, certain donor qualities are more important than others. Choose a CRM that allows you to track and process your data using terms and formats that make sense for you, and that generates reports that are relevant to your goals.
Another benefit of using a cloud-based data management system is the flexibility to access the database from any computer. Most CRMs these days don’t limit the number of users, or if they do, it’s not as costly to add them. A good CRM will also provide you with a hierarchy of access types. You should be able to set administrative access, read-only access, and add-only access. You can determine who needs to be able to edit data entries, and who simply needs to view a report or trends.
Thinking of a new CRM?
Our good friends at Bloomerang address all these data issues and more. If you’re looking for a new CRM that is cloud-based, secure, fully customizable and has great customer service, consider Bloomerang.
For more information about finding or migrating your CRM, contact us!
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