All About Donor Data: How to Turn What You Know Into Giving

Right at this very moment, you hold the keys to increasing your donor retention and average gift values. Everything you need to know lives inside your donor management system. How do we know? Because that’s where all your donor data lives. And, it turns out, your donor data is the most valuable piece of any growth strategy for your nonprofit. 

When used strategically, donor data can be leveraged to cultivate a better understanding of your donors. It can open the door for effective personalization and specific segmentation that proves to your donors they are more than just a name on your list. They’ll see themselves as an integral part of your organization, responsible for incredible impact. 

Understanding What Data You Have

If you’ve never pulled donor data, much less used it to predict behaviors, this all might sound a bit overwhelming. But we’re here to help break down the steps so you know exactly what to do.  

First things first: pull the information you’re already familiar with and can access easily. For most nonprofits, this will mean data around donor’s recency, frequency and monetary (RFM) generosity. Recency tells you the length of time it’s been since their last act of generosity. Frequency tracks how often a donor gives in a specific time period. Monetary data shows you the amount given. These three data sets are a strong foundation to build your first engagement strategy on, but they are just the beginning. RFM alone is not enough to truly understand your donors. 

RFM can be used to segment your donor base in a way that makes sense for your high level communications plan. For example, an individual who has donated every December for the last 3 years should get a different message than a donor who gave twice in the last decade. However, if a majority of your donors are on a subscription schedule, giving the same day every month, you might need to segment your messages by monetary data. 

Starting with RFM data will give you a significant leg up in starting to engage your donors in more meaningful, authentic ways.

Dive Deeper 

While RFM can be helpful in identifying donor patterns, they are only the tip of the information iceberg. When it comes to developing a meaningful relationship with your donors, you need to go deeper with your data. Behavior-based data such as social media preferences, volunteering habits and network connections offer much more valuable insights that can drive more authentic engagements.

 Sound intimidating? Don’t panic. We’re not suggesting you run out and get a data science degree, or hire someone who does. We just want to help you understand your donors motivations in a more nuanced way. Beyond RFM, these 5 types of data are helpful if you want to drive generosity and donor retention.


Are your donors where you think they are?

Geographic information helps you easily find and engage with donors in certain areas. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity to take your engagements offline and actually have a face-to-face conversation. 

Social Media Activity

Are your donors tweeting, posting and pinning?

The social media content your donors like, share and post gives you a window into their digital consumption habits and preferences. Knowing when most of your donors are online gives you an idea of when to post if you want your donors to take action. You can also learn who they engage with most as an opportunity to build influencer partnerships and what they want to see, creatively, from your organization.

Giving Ability

Are you asking the right people?  

Net worth, real estate, and total yearly donation amounts help you to better understand a donor’s giving potential and when you should ask for more. Aggregate this information from public information, like tax documents, as a way to make the most informed generosity request when the time comes. 

Nonprofit Interactions 

Do you know how engaged your donors are?

Do they typically volunteer, attend events or refer friends? Track interactions in one place so you know who is willing to give time, money or both.


Are your donors the gatekeepers to a valuable network?

Have individuals in your donors’ network previously donated or expressed interest in your nonprofit? Segmenting your donors by their networks helps you identify donors who are also willing advocates.

What to Do Next

Just having the data isn’t enough. It will only make an impact if you use it the right way. Leverage the tools you have, like nonprofit marketing automation, to create a donor experience that inspires commitment, loyalty and advocacy for your nonprofit. 

If this sounds like too large an undertaking, it’s time to explore how donor engagement software can help. The tools in your arsenal should collect, sort, and house all of this data for you—making it easier to gather, analyze, and automate as your donor list grows.

Donors give their hard-earned income and precious time to causes and organizations that are near and dear to their hearts. Nonprofit campaign strategies should be using that same level personalization. This can only be achieved through data collection that informs your marketing strategy and enables automation.

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“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”
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Chief Information Officer