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Ghazal Vaghedi 7 min read

Is your Database Costing you Crucial Donations?

Last year I received an end of year appeal from an organization I’ve been closely involved with as a donor (and much more) for over eight years appealing to me to become a new donor. I was so put off by the generic ask that I actually made the decision to not make my end of year gift on the simple principle that I was offended by the lack of personalization and consideration given to a historical donor. It was clear to me that this appeal was just blasted without any proper segmentation; the packaged two-in-one messages (“become a new donor” or “help recruit new donors”) was the ultimate insult.  At the most basic level the segmentation could have split current donors and prospective donors.  I can only imagine how much this oversight cost this nonprofit, both in terms of donor loyalty as well as end of year income. 

This is why the database you use is really vital to enabling you to effectively appeal to your various segments.  Your CRM is the backbone of your donor communications and tracking of important data whether you are a grassroot or grasstop organization.  It should provide you with proper infrastructure to manage ALL your donors effectively in one place.  Why?  If you are not effectively tagging, tracking, and thus moving your supporters UP the engagement ladder – you are very likely losing money, and not retaining or properly acquiring new donors.  Your database could be a goldmine of data just waiting to be put to the test.  So, whenever you are in the market evaluating CRMs, don’t fear to ask some key questions.  In my past life as a fundraiser, I learned the hard way that choosing the wrong CRM can be disastrous. Granted, my organization had a limited budget, but I wish I knew then what I know now.  Years later, my former colleagues still call their broken system ‘the Ghost of Ghazal.’ Yikes!

Now I'm offering my experience to prevent you, dear reader, from being haunted by a similar mistake.  Here are five things to consider:

1. Ease of migration and implementation

Data migration can be a huge headache especially when you are migrating to a platform that doesn’t provide you with the flexibility to structure your data based on your unique requirements. Consider what data columns are important for you to migrate. Also consider what historical and transactional information you need to bring over from your existing database. Evaluating your current data and determining key criteria for a new database will help you ask the right “data” questions when you are shopping around.

2. Integration with your front facing pages for fundraising and advocacy.

How will the data you migrate combine with new data you are collecting to personalize and enhance your supporter journey?

Whether it’s your outbound e-mail or landing pages, profiling and segmenting your supporters based on historical information you have collected and combining that with new interactions provides a valuable opportunity to tailor your “ask.”

3. Individual supporter management.

The new database you select should have supporter management features that allow you to easily manage your supporters individually. This means being able to record offline transactions, pledges, manage recurring payments, subscriptions, and the ability to update any transaction for an individual supporter. The ability to de-duplicate and merge supporter data is also important when it comes to managing your database.

4. Query tools and segmentation.

I often hear nightmare stories from organizations about the pains they go through to run reports and build lists. Make sure you can actually see the ease of use of these features. It should work 'out of the box' -- not requiring complex SQL database queries.

You should always be able to filter based on both the transactional information (for example: fundraising, e-mail, advocacy, and so on) as well as form data and tags. When it comes to segmentation, tools that offer groups or profiles allow for you to more efficiently track your supporters (for example, creating groups of lapsed donors or super activists). This is an important point as these features allow for personalization via dynamic content.

You have the data, but how will your new CRM allow you to use it to your advantage?

5. Support.

During both the migration phase and post-migration, make sure you know how well the software is supported. Is there a ticketing system where it takes 2 hours or more to get someone to respond to your request? Or can you just pick up the phone and have a direct point of contact during working hours and after?

Whether you are looking to fully migrate or just begin a transition from your current CRM, I hope these points will help in your evaluation.

Ghazal Vaghedi is the Head of Market Development (North America) at Engaging Networks. You can reach her here.