For some nonprofits, the term "data management" might seem a little daunting. After all, organizations like yours are collecting, storing, and generating reports on more data than ever before, from donor information and prospect data to web analytics, engagement histories, and much more. It's a lot to keep track of!
Nonetheless, effective data management is absolutely essential for nonprofits. A strategic approach to data collection and maintenance can help you develop stronger, more intentional supporter relationships, build better engagement strategies, and raise more money—all of which empowers your organization to make an impact!
If you're not sure where to start when it comes to managing your nonprofit data, we've got 5 foolproof tips you can follow:
- Understand what types of nonprofit data you should store.
- Create a system for storing and managing your nonprofit data.
- Develop strategic processes for nonprofit data entry.
- Regularly update your nonprofit database.
- Use your nonprofit data to inform your organization's strategies.
These strategies can help your organization stay on top of your data in order to create more impactful fundraising and donor stewardship strategies. Keep reading to learn how to use these tips at your nonprofit!
1. Understand What Types of Nonprofit Data You Should Store.
With the right CRM (and some knowledge of how to implement and configure the software), you can store virtually any type of data you want. Nonprofit CRM solutions are built to store the most vital supporter data, such as the types we listed out above. In addition, most databases allow users to add custom fields to donor profiles to make it easier to track different types of data that may be relevant to your organization.
However, just because you can store unlimited amounts of supporter data or other types of nonprofit analytics in your database, that doesn't mean it's wise to stock your CRM with every detail imaginable or to pull reports on anything and everything you can. Your nonprofit needs to be discerning when it comes to the types of meaningful data you're storing and using.
How do you decide what data matters and what doesn't? Start by setting tangible goals for what you want to use your data to accomplish.
Ask yourself (and your team) what you're trying to learn from your data, and how you want to use your data to make your nonprofit more impactful. For instance, you can use data to determine:
- Which of your nonprofit programs, events, or campaigns are successful. Measuring the amount of funds you've raised or the number of supporters who attended, as well as qualitative feedback received through surveys or collected in person and noted within your CRM, can help you pinpoint particular efforts that have gone well (or not so well).
- How to communicate and engage with your supporter base. Think it's time to cut back on direct mail or build out your email marketing department? You can find out which by segmenting your supporter list by their preferred channel of engagement, or by analyzing analytics such as email open and click-through rates, direct mail response rates or donations, and more.
- Whom you should target for major or planned gifts. Prospect data is one of the most valuable types of information you can use to grow your nonprofit, and there may be key prospects hiding within your existing supporter set! By keeping track of information around philanthropic affinities and capacity for giving, you can better identify and steward potential major contributors.
- How your nonprofit compares to other organizations. With the help of your consultant, you should benchmark your performance to find out if your efforts are in line with other nonprofits in your sector. By using data analysis to drive this process, you can see a clear view of how you're stacking up to other organizations on a variety of metrics.
Keep in mind that your goals for your data may change over time, so it's important to refresh your approach to data management as you would any other nonprofit strategy. If your objectives as an organization shift or evolve over time, look to your CRM. You may be able to use existing reports to guide you as you set new goals for your nonprofit!
2. Create a system for storing and managing your nonprofit data.
No matter what types of data are important to your nonprofit, if you want to develop a plan for how to use that information, you'll need to have a plan for where and how you'll store it. That's where the right nonprofit technology comes into play.
Most nonprofits are accumulating data from a wide variety of sources. Think about it: between your online fundraising platforms, your website sign-up forms, and online engagement channels, there are a number of ways you gather supporter data on a daily basis. If you want to access (and use) that data, you need to know where it's going!
Your constituent relationship management (CRM) software should be the primary solution for centralizing all of the supporter data you're collecting, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Basic donor information, including biographic and contact information.
- Donation or other financial transaction records.
- Engagement histories (such as volunteer records or event or program attendance).
- Professional affiliations or employer information.
- Interests, skills, or philanthropic affinities.
- Custom fields and notes.
Especially for large, multifaceted organizations, a robust CRM is essential, as it serves as a central storehouse for the multitude of different records you might need to access at any given time.
By integrating all of your fundraising and donor engagement tools with your CRM, you can ensure that data flows from each platform into your database, limiting the amount of manual data entry your team will be responsible for.
When you leverage integration to create a complete CRM system, your team can all work out of one connected interface rather than independently operating from multiple platforms (or, even worse, completely disparate spreadsheets).
Pro tip: Though vital, integrations can be complicated. If you need to connect a number of systems, it's smart to work with experts who can reduce the risk of damage to your data. We always recommend working with nonprofit technology and data consultants who know your software and your strategy.
Looking to start your next integration or implementation project? DNL OmniMedia has got your back. Contact us to tell us more about your project (and get it off the ground)!
That way, you can all but guarantee that your software will be implemented in a way that contributes to your goals as an organization.
3. Develop Strategic Processes for Nonprofit Data Entry.
Once you know what types of data you're looking to store, the first step to strategic data management is planning for how your data will be entered into (and maintained) within your CRM. Though integrations will help information flow from software to software, your nonprofit will still be ultimately responsible for managing the very important data entry process for all of your supporter data.
With the help of your nonprofit technology consultants (after all, they're the experts!), develop a set of best practices and policies for data entry.
Just as you wouldn't dive into your next fundraising campaign without creating clear objectives and paths for achieving your goals, you can't take on nonprofit data entry and management without outlining strategic processes for your team to follow. Make sure you have answers to all of the following questions:
- Who will be responsible for data entry?
- In which platforms will you store data? Do these platforms all integrate with one another, and if not, how often will you transfer data from platform to platform?
- What conventions will you follow when entering names, dates, and other information?
- Which fields will you require to be completed in donor profiles? How will you manage blank fields?
In addition, create standards around where these policies are documented, who on your team will be responsible for enforcing them, and how you'll train the appropriate staff on these best practices.
Because data management can be such a full-time job (particularly for larger organizations with multiple departments and numerous ongoing campaigns), it often helps to appoint a dedicated member of your team as data manager or CRM administrator. That way, you have a clear point person for all questions or issues related to data management.
If you don't have someone on your staff ready to take on such a role, you can always outsource this responsibility to your consulting team, even if just temporarily as you become accustomed to the data management process. Your technology consultant can help educate your team on the importance of effective data management and work with you to establish best practices that your staff can execute for years to come.
Bonus! If your organization manages your nonprofit data using Blackbaud CRM, Raiser's Edge, or other Blackbaud tools, check out our complete list of Blackbaud training resources to find out how you can become experts in your technology!
4. Regularly Update Your Nonprofit Database.
Let's face it: no matter how dedicated you are in setting up a well-integrated CRM system or creating and following data entry best practices, you simply can't expect your database to stay clean, up-to-date, and organized forever. Maintenance is a major aspect of nonprofit data management!
Because you need your data to be accurate in order for it to be useful, your team should plan to "spring clean" your CRM on an annual basis, or prior to any major campaign, software implementation, or data migration. (For more on how data cleanup factors into the migration process, check out these tips!)
During your routine maintenance, be on the lookout for:
- Duplicate profiles.
- Outdated or incorrect records.
- Unstandardized records (i.e., variations in formatting for names, addresses, or other fields.)
- Lapsed or deceased donor profiles.
- Unnecessary information (i.e., multiple home addresses or cell phone numbers per donor).
Though it might seem intimidating, don't be afraid to say goodbye to records or notes that you no longer need. Cleaning up outdated or non-valuable information will help you make room for data that can actually inform your strategy as an organization.
Another step you can take to ensure your data is up-to-date throughout the year? Allow your donors to update their profiles themselves!
By using a CRM or custom solution that gives your supporters the freedom to update their contact details, communication preferences, recurring gift settings, and more all on their own, you can limit the amount of manual data entry and upkeep your team has to take on.
For example, check out how Luminate users can review and manage their donor profiles using DNL's custom Luminate Online Member Center:
Though your team should still make a point to review your data regularly, implementing a solution like this can make it much easier to count on data that's accurate at any time. (Plus, your supporters will thank you for the flexibility!)
In need of a tool like this for your CRM? Contact Team DNL to learn more about our Member Center and other custom nonprofit technology solutions!
5. Use Your Nonprofit Data to Inform Your Organization's Strategies.
You've worked hard to get your data in order; now it's time to reap the benefits!
Nonprofits don't invest time into data management for nothing. When you use your data to develop a stronger understanding of who your donors are, you can create strategies that are designed to engage your audience—and trust us: you'll raise more money, grow your organization, and have a stronger impact in the community because of it!
Depending on the specific reports you're pulling from, you might apply your data to any of the following areas of your nonprofit:
- Fundraising. What types of fundraising events or campaign styles appeal to your donors? Which of your existing supporters would make a good prospect for major giving? What annual appeal strategies have been successful historically that you can build on next year? You can find the answers to these questions (and many more) by digging into your database!
- Donor engagement. Use your CRM to house data related to how you're interacting with donors to make sure you're maintaining an active relationship with your supporters. Many databases have built-in or integrated social media management tools so that you can stay on top of online engagement more easily and keep track of important analytics that you can leverage during digital fundraising or advocacy campaigns.
- Marketing and outreach. Keep a record of how your supporters prefer to be communicated with, view a record of donor interactions, and manage marketing data (such as email open and click-through rates, direct mail responses, and more) within one centralized location. Then, use that information to target your outreach and maximize your marketing budget.
- Donor and volunteer retention. When you can quickly access any supporter's full history with your nonprofit, you can identify which individuals are at risk of lapsing or may need a little extra attention from your team. You can also take advantage of your CRM's built-in communication tools to automate outreach and keep all of your donors and volunteers in the loop, or create specific outreach plans for constituents who haven't engaged in a while.
No matter how you're applying your nonprofit data management, one of the most important benefits is the ability to identify key segments within your supporter list. That way, you're not just creating one blanket strategy for every constituent in your database; you're developing highly targeted plans to engage your supporters in your campaigns based on their interests, abilities, and histories with your nonprofit.
After all, why would you treat all of your donors, volunteers, and advocates the same way when they each have something unique to offer your organization?
With these essential tips in mind, there's nothing intimidating about nonprofit data.
Ready to put your data to good use? Get started by partnering with a team of nonprofit data experts like DNL OmniMedia! Check out our services page to see how we can help you optimize your data collection and management process, including helping you create a nonprofit software system that can help you stay organized and on track for years to come.
Find out even more about how to use technology for your data management strategy by checking out these additional resources:
- 12 Key Analytics for Nonprofits: Why These Metrics Matter. As we mentioned, knowing what metrics to track is a major aspect of managing your donor data. In this in-depth post, we break down 15 of the most important nonprofit analytics to utilize at your organization.
- Raiser's Edge vs. Salesforce: A 360° Review. Both Blackbaud Raiser's Edge and Salesforce are popular data management platforms. Before you decide between the two, read our comparison to see which CRM would work better for your nonprofit.
- Double the Donation's Guide to Choosing a Donor Database. Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes nonprofits make when purchasing a nonprofit CRM by reading this thorough guide from Double the Donation!