How to Leverage Data to Build a Better Connection with Donors

Reports have revealed the number of nonprofits using some sort of customer relationship management (CRM) software to manage their donor and volunteer relationships is growing. To a biased provider of a nonprofit CRM like us, this is good news (of course). But we also love to hear this because it means these organizations are taking steps toward gathering data and doing something with it – and this is crucial to connecting with donors.

Whether you’ve dabbled in data a little bit or spend all of your time trying to squeeze some sense out of the wealth of data you’ve gathered, there are some steps you’ve got to take if you want to better engage your donors.

Remove Dirty Data

When you’re busy, which everyone who works in nonprofits is, sometimes you might fall into the trap of “some data entered is better than no data entered.” But this is only kind of true. If you’re always racing to put in a donor’s contact information, you might partially enter it or accidentally type some of it in wrong. You might also put in duplicate records without realizing it. All of this results in a messy dark hole of data that is hard to organize and even worse to analyze.

So first, clean up your existing records. Most software systems (like ours) give you the option of identifying and then merging duplicate records automatically, which can be a big time saver. The next step is to verify that the information you’ve entered on each of your contacts is up to date and complete. When in doubt, call, text or email the person and ask them directly. This can take some time, but if you have an intern or a volunteer who wants to help you, this is the perfect type of task to hand off to them.

Centralize and Organize Donor Details

Part of connecting better with donors is personalizing your communications with them, which you can only do if you know something about them. Tagging your contacts within your CRM system is one of the best (and easiest) ways to organize your data for actionable use later. Before you start going tag-crazy, though, map out a tagging system that you’ll use. This bubbles up to the data cleanliness point above and will save you a lot of time and annoyance later when your tags are uniform.

For example, one tag might be “attended event” and then another might be “attended annual 5K.” Depending on how detailed you want to go (the more detailed, the better, in our opinions), you can add a multitude of tags that will make your life easier when you go to contact the person in questions. Jumping off this same example, you might want to invite all former event participants to an upcoming fundraising dinner you’re having so you can search by the “attended event” tag. Or, you might want to target those donors who showed an interest in a physical activity (the 5K) for an upcoming cycling fundraiser, in which case you’d use the “attended annual 5K” tag. Tagging makes it so you can target contacts more effectively when you need to and resonate with them on a deeper level.

Gauge Engagement

It’s been said that donor engagement is heavily linked to quantity of donations, and we’ve heard that anecdotally over the years too. But some nonprofits don’t really know what counts as “engagement,” and isn’t sure where to look in their data to figure out someone’s level of interaction with your organization.

Here are a few good places to start:

  • Event attendance
  • Email opens
  • Email clicks
  • Volunteer opportunity attendance
  • Interactions via social media (likes, comments, shares, etc.)

Decide which of these indicates true engagement to you, and then you can generate a report within your software to compare how donors stack up in this area. This can give you an idea of who you should reach out to (the ones who are least engaged) and who you should continue asking for donations (the ones who are the most engaged). Needless to say, efforts should be made to connect personally with all donors, regardless of their engagement level, but this can at least help you prioritize which may need the personal touch most.

Measure Metrics

Beyond engagement-related numbers, there are a few more data points to keep in mind as you work to build deeper relationships with your donors. Think of these as the ‘business side’ of the relationship, because they’ll help you figure out where your most loyal and generous supporters came from, how long they’ve maintained a relationship with you and more.

Here are two metrics to focus on:

  • Donor acquisition source: Identify where your donors found out about you, whether it was a social media ad, word-of-mouth referral, event, Google search or a specific campaign you ran. This will open your eyes to where you might want to allocate more of your funds in the future, and where it makes the most sense to amp up donor outreach.
  • Quantity, quality and context of donations: Within each contact record, you should be keeping track of when a donor gave to your organization, along with how much time, help or money they gave. This will help you to recognize patterns and predict when they may be likely to donate again.

Use Communication Strategically

Once you have your data cleaned up and have the most important metrics in front of you, nail down a thoughtful communication strategy for talking with donors. This should include an ideal cadence and should focus on delivering the information each donor is most likely to be interested in through the channel they seem to prefer at the right times.

[bctt tweet=”Also keep in mind what your “thanking-to-asking” ratio is. It should be at least five-to-one, although many organizations believe in a higher ratio.” username=”VirtuousCRM”] This means that donors should be thanked, appreciated or shown the value they’ve added to your organization at least that many times before you ask them for more money.

One final tip for communication that helps connect: Be sure to regularly update donors on the progress you’re making as an organization and remind them of your big-picture vision that is yet to be realized. Keep showing them how they have been part of that process, and how they can be part of that.

Once you get especially savvy with your data, you can start leveraging it further for predictive analytics and more. But start here and reinforce your donor relationships with the data you have, and you’ll ensure your success with fundraising and growth in the near-term.


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