By Joyce Penland,CFRE
“You’re only as good as your data.”
We in the fundraising profession have heard this statement repeatedly…whether at conferences or through newsletters and, frankly, we know it’s true. We know that we can’t reach out to donors, former donors, and prospective donors for support if we don’t have accurate data about them.
Too often we think that talking about our data, or having meetings with staff about data management is “boring.” But the truth is we should think about our data as pure gold. Marion Lee, a principal at Bacon Lee & Associates, said, “A nonprofit organization has its facility, its people, and its data. We know the first two are important, but too often the data on our donors is undervalued.”
For fundraisers, “good data” includes the basics of name, address, phone(s), email and the amount/purpose for all gifts given to the organization. Savvy fundraisers know that other important data to record about donors includes “contact preferences” and “relationships” as well as “gifts to other nonprofits” and the list goes on.
Recently I talked with a new development director who was frustrated by her organization’s lack of good, reliable information on donors. She said that her nonprofit kept its donor information on an Excel spreadsheet (entered by FIRST name) and the group’s historical giving data extended back only three years. I assured her that we at Bacon Lee & Associates have had many clients in the same boat with insubstantial data and no system beyond Excel to manage it. But even with these challenges, we recommend these simple steps to get your data in order.
While these steps are simple, it is essential to keep your data as accurate and current as possible.
Because most of us are both fundraisers and donors, it behooves us to take the long view. Rather than becoming upset because a nonprofit we love occasionally sends us mail or email with “bloopers” in our names or addresses, let’s take a deep breath and extend a little grace and remember that data management is an ongoing challenge for every nonprofit.