The dirty little secret about donor retention “they” don’t tell you

January 23, 2012

We talk a lot in this industry about donor retention.

All kinds of “Phantom Donor” testing occurs, such as Mal Warwick’s practice of sending a round of checks to twenty organizations to study the (usually unimpressive) returns.

Articles turn up regularly on penning the perfect thank you letter, and whether a thank you letter should include an additional ask, and how many times and ways that you can thank your donors.

So, what’s missing in this equation?

It’s simple really.  You can’t really be a donor-centric organization without both a good database and solid protocols and training in using that database.

How can you thank, survey, segment and communicate with your supporters if you’re keeping that data in an Excel spreadsheet?

My first step in working with any new client – typically a small, community nonprofit – is to evaluate their database and make recommendations.

How do you locate the perfect database?  Robert Weiner’s article on that topic gives a terrific overview and can help those new to donor databases evaluate and select a database that’s right for their organization.

But don’t stop there.  Begin developing your protocols for data entry before you begin using your new database.  Make certain that you’ve factored in funding for training and regular updates.


Sign up for Simple Development Systems | The Membership Program to receive access to Robert Weiner’s webinar covering Ten Common Mistakes in Selecting Donor Databases (and how to avoid them).

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE January 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Pamela,
Here’s an example of how critical a good database can be.
A local land trust was managing its donors in a custom created database and through Quickbooks. But it couldn’t follow donation history very well, so from year to year it really didn’t have an easy way to know who had renewed their membership and who hadn’t.
The organization converted to an online donor management system (in this case, DonorPerfect). The year after it started managing accounts in this database, it raised an addition $40,000 in membership dues just by getting more methodical about following up.
I’d say that was a great investment.

Sandy Rees January 24, 2012 at 9:22 am

Keeping good data is essential to a strong fundraising program.

Sandy Rees

Pamela Grow January 24, 2012 at 9:42 am

That’s an excellent example Gayle. I happen to be a fan of DonorPerfect. Actually I can find things to like about every software that I’ve used from GiftWorks to RaisersEdge to eTapestry to DonorPerfect. Thanks for posting.

Pamela Grow January 24, 2012 at 9:42 am

How right you are. Thanks for commenting Sandy.

Xan from Juno January 26, 2012 at 8:06 am

THANK you for this. I get so tired of hearing people at my organization say “database protocols? There’s database protocols?” every time I find an incorrectly entered record. Or how often I hear “we can’t afford it,” “it’s been working fine” (it hasn’t), “I know you’re right but everyone’s too busy to do it as carefully as you do” etc.

Kirsten Bullock, Nonprofit Coach January 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Thanks for addressing this issue. If I could count the times I’ve heard ‘but we can’t afford a donor database.’ They can’t afford to not have one! Okay, I’ll step down from the soapbox 🙂 and just say thanks for bringing it up and providing some resources.

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE February 1, 2012 at 7:58 am

Pam, I agree about finding a lot to like in most databases. Organizations can really benefit from looking around. And thank goodness for Idealware.org for their reviews of different products on the market.
And many grassroots nonprofits find the nonprofit version of Salesforce, donated by the organization, worth looking into.

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