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  • Sharron Batsch

Are You Struggling with a Mining Disaster?

You can’t Mine what you don’t have!

Successful fundraising is based on the relationships you build with your donors. Some of those relationships may be more distant than others but still effective as you work to reduce the distance and engage in long-term support. The use of a database to record gifts and information concerning donors is essential to a formal fund development program. There are no secrets and no shortcuts to managing this high-value resource that gives financial support to your organization. The donations received and knowledge gained, need to be managed as an entrepreneurial asset that requires well-thought-out policies supported by procedures and standards.

When you sit down to prepare your fund development plan for the next year and you want to include some projections, your success rate will be directly related to the quality and quantity of the data/information you have to work with.

The misfortune for many organizations is they have not managed their donor information with an eye on the present or the future. Spreadsheets used to record events, no profile data on high-value donors, and information kept in notes are a few examples of information found in a less-than-useful form.

What makes data mine-able?

Think of a bank. You are creating a bank account with information about how your donors have invested in your charity. Determining first and last gifts, as well as accumulated donations, requires accuracy. One of the biggest perils is duplicate donor records where multiple entries for a given donor make this information unreliable.

Imagine contact with the donor only to have them point out inaccuracies. It’s not only a personal embarrassment but it exposes poor methods inherent in how the charity manages its business.

Complete information is essential. Surprising as it may be, poor data management is more prevalent than one would think. A basic tenet of successful fundraising is knowing what and how a donor has interacted with a charity. This only occurs through good recording methods and definitely not through staff memory.

A well-run charity wants to know what donations have been gifted; which events donors have attended; if they have volunteered; did they spent money on auction items at an event; whether they donated an auction item; have they been an event sponsor; or a participant in a walk or a run. The answer to all of these questions should and needs to reside in the donor database making data mineable.

All members of the fund development team should participate so that transactions are recorded accurately and in a timely manner. Gift information, when well recorded provides further depth about a donor’s interest in a charity. For example, recording a donation as a “designated” gift, does not provide the same impact as using a fund account that establishes a specific interest. Knowing that a donor supports a particular program, service, facility, or equipment purchase enables the fund development department to engage the donor with further support or interaction with the charity. These activities build commitment and commitment is what we are looking for.

The Other Information that makes data mineable will address donor characteristics. For example, type of business, special interests, family and friend relationships. These are just a few ideas that would benefit the charity. The possibilities are endless but they must be relevant to the charity. How this is collected can be part of an annual review of major donors.

We have prepared forms that help to establish the basic information that is required when entering donors. Using a template to help fill in information is helpful.

Something as simple as a correctly formed address, phone number(s), and email give access to donors based on special criteria that a charity has captured.

When we discuss capture for essential pieces of information we are not suggesting notes as a primary method. Notes are useful as a secondary resource but they DO NOT provide accurate access. Spelling errors, typing errors, and different methods of saying basically the same thing are a real waste of time and make data unsearchable and results unreliable.

A system of keywords can be developed that is in the best interest of the charity. This system supports data capture and management where staff members become accountable for the completeness and quality of what they record.

Staff, who are non-compliant, are a risk to an organization and marginalize one of the charity’s most valuable assets. Training is a further issue. Would you give a multi-million dollar asset to someone who thought they could figure things out, someone who is untrained or do you prefer competence as the preferred option?

It’s always interesting to find out that training has been all but eliminated from an annual budget. Guessing is not a strategy when looking for a successful outcome! Boards and senior management need to support training and skill sharing if a charity staff is to work effectively.

If you choose to have mineable data, it will be up to you and your organization. Poor donor data management provides low-quality data and yields poor to mediocre results. It erodes staff time and diminishes morale as the same problems crop up again and again. Hands-off managers, procrastinators, and those who are too busy should never be given the responsibility for managing a charity’s financial future.

If you want mineable data start by looking at how you are managing what you learn about your donors and how you record their interactions with the charity.

It’s the responsibility of the charity and its staff to manage; the database used is just the tool!

If you would like sample profile forms, please email your request to and place Minable Forms in the Subject.

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