Both for-profit and nonprofit organizations alike collect many different types of data each day. For nonprofits, this might include donor data like the email address, name, address, and giving level of a donor who just signed up to receive your newsletter. If your organization is a human services agency, on the other hand, you may store and reference data about your clients like case notes. A traditional for-profit business might track the purchases its customers make through its app to create personalized, targeted ads.
Data analytics allow your organization to track and quantify the impact it has on clients or the progress you’ve made toward your goals. Your database can also help you record key details about donors such as their communication preferences, helping to strengthen donor relationships, increase retention, and attract new donors.
To get the most out of your donor or client data, it’s essential to organize, manage, and maintain a clean, accurate database. We’ll walk through some of the most important database management strategies, starting with why you should start using data management software.
1. Use data management software.
The best way for busy organizations to manage the large amounts of data they accumulate is to invest in database software. This software makes recording, saving, and referencing data more convenient by providing secure storage and reporting tools. With your data saved in a secure data management system, your organization can make data-backed decisions, automate administrative tasks to free up your staff’s valuable time, and identify donors and prospects who are likely to make major gifts.
Because there are different types of social good organizations, there are various approaches your organization can take to database management software. Here are two examples of different types of database management software:
- Case management software: This software allows human services agencies to track key information about the clients they serve (like their contact information or appointment scheduling) in order to provide them with the best care and experiences possible. Case management software houses all client data in one platform and takes a modernized approach to database management by moving away from cumbersome spreadsheets. It should also include features like visual reporting pages, mobile capabilities, and compliance measures that meet legal regulations around client privacy.
- CRM software: Constituent relationship management (CRM) software tracks donor data and allows organizations to leverage the insights they uncover through data in online marketing and fundraising efforts. If you need a solution with out-of-the-box tools, key CRM software features to look for include the ability to create donor profiles, track donations, automate digital marketing activities, send automated donation acknowledgments, allow online event registration, set up online petitions, and host peer-to-peer fundraising pages. For many CRMs, you can continue to update and explore new features with applications and third-party integrations.
Keep in mind that depending on your organization’s needs, you may need to use both kinds of software to properly manage your data. If your nonprofit serves those struggling with mental health concerns, for example, you’ll need to track and grow your donor base to receive funding and record client data to provide positive experiences and outcomes.
2. Audit and update your database regularly.
As your organization grows, it will collect and record more and more data. A growing database indicates that your organization is reaching more clients, receiving more donations, and making a larger impact. In addition to optimizing the software and tools you use to facilitate large amounts of data, keeping data clean is essential to ensuring you can understand and accurately report it.
To ensure your data stays updated, accurate, and well-organized, it’s key to practice good data hygiene habits. Data hygiene refers to any of the actions your organization takes to keep data consistent and free of errors. These tips can help your organization develop positive habits for managing its data:
- Establish specific procedures. Create policies that specify who is responsible for cleaning data, outline how often data should be reviewed, list criteria for removing or updating data, and highlight the tools (and instructions for using them) they’ll use when reviewing data. Additionally, establish clear policies and procedures for staff to follow when entering data. This way if your organization experiences high turnover, you can ensure that data entry is standardized no matter who is entering it.
- Remove irrelevant data. After months or years of data collection, there is likely data stored in your database that is outdated, inaccurate, or simply no longer useful to your organization. For instance, you may have clients who haven’t returned to the agency in many years or inactive donors who haven’t responded to your attempts to reconnect. In these cases, it’s best to remove this data to reduce clutter and ensure your reports are as timely as possible. Holding on to decades of donor data can also make migrating to a new CRM frustrating as your organization may incur added costs due to the size of the file.
- Update and correct data. Not all data that is inaccurate or out of date should be removed. Instead, take the time to correct inaccuracies such as typos, misspelled names, data entered in the wrong field, and inconsistent formatting. Additionally, be sure to update contact information, home addresses, last names, and other details that might change with major life events like moving homes or getting married.
The best, most effective way to keep your data free of clutter and ensure reports accurately reflect your organization’s current standing is to commit to reviewing your data on a regular basis. A good rule of thumb is to check data for errors and inconsistencies at least every six months.
3. Use filters and segments.
Databases store vast amounts of information, and parsing through all of it to identify trends and patterns can be difficult to do with raw, unfiltered data. Your database management system should provide tools that allow your organization to make that data more useful, such as the ability to create custom segments of supporters.
This practice, called donor segmentation, is a popular method nonprofits use to uncover insights about their donors. Donor segmentation simply refers to organizing donors into subgroups based on specific shared characteristics. When analyzing data, segmentation can hold many benefits for your organization, including:
- Helping nonprofits ask for the proper gift amount.
- Reach out through donors’ preferred communication channels.
- Identify donors who are at risk of lapsing.
- Tailor marketing and outreach efforts to donors’ preferences.
Your organization can segment by any characteristic they find helpful, ranging from average gift amount to geographic location. For example, you could filter your donors by which advocacy campaigns they supported in the past by referencing the petitions a donor previously signed. Then, target those donors with emails about supporting an upcoming campaign for the same cause since they previously demonstrated interest in it.
Data gives social good organizations the power to identify their strengths, weaknesses, and data-driven strategies that help them grow. While data is an invaluable tool for almost every organization from educational causes to agencies specializing in disability services, organizations can only make the most of it when it is organized. To take full advantage of the power of data, practice data hygiene, create data segments, and invest in robust database management software.