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  • Sharron Batsch

FUNDRAISING | Undiscussable - The Condition of Donor Data

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Your doctor has retired, and you are about to meet his replacement. Other than your name, they know little of your previous medical history. How does this make you feel? Insecure? Unsettled? Would you expect more from your doctor? What about organizations that accept billions of dollars annually from donors?

A charity is a knowledge-driven enterprise and charities play an essential role in communities across the world in service to the needs of their specific client base. How does a knowledge-driven organization secure financial support when it knows little about its donors? How can a charity thrive without reliable and up-to-date information about those who provide the dollars to keep it afloat? Continuity is undermined when staff members leave and there is no record of what they have learned during their employment. The charity is not only at a loss; they are at risk.

Coming up empty There are organizations that find some issues they consider to be “undiscussable.” These are issues that get danced around and maybe hinted at, but never get addressed openly. One such “undiscussable” topic is the condition of their donor data. When we delve into a charity’s database, their most prolific fundraising tool, it is often empty except for donation records. Where is the information that creates the basis for building relationships?

This issue begins at the leadership level. If management does not understand how critical information is to the organization, then lip service is often offered as guidance, and accountability is neglected. Outcomes become the primary focus. However, there would be no financial outcomes to focus on without a revenue stream. There would be no sustainable revenue without the continuity of accurate donor information and their evolving relationships with their charity of choice.

Knowledge provides a strategic advantage Development staff who have the most significant interaction with donors need to be given guidance on how to obtain and then add valuable content about donors and supporters. Consider providing talking points to a staff member, whether an executive director or development officer, meeting a previous donor. How would a conversation aimed at building donor knowledge begin?

Perhaps it could be,

“Hello, Mrs Jones. It is so nice to meet you. I see you have supported our “Have a Home Program” for XX years, is that correct? It appears your husband also gives to this program. How did you initially connect with our charity? I understand you visited our newest site last week. What were your impressions of the work being done?”

Periodic reviews, both annual and semi-annual, reinforce knowledge as a strategic advantage. Team members who demonstrate how they have supported a better understanding of donors in their interactions create value. A task that solidifies knowledge adds to a coherent and timely asset that, when recorded in the donor management system, is accessible to all staff.

Do we understand the giving criteria of corporate donors and supportive foundations? Whom do they employ, and how do these staff members work with a charity to advance its goals?

What about individual donors? What information has been collected about them and their reasons for supporting the charity? Notes are critical as a resource, but well-defined keywords enable rapid and accurate access. How does your charity measure up on the depth and continuity of donor-related information?

Charities are subject to input from senior management and the board of Directors, yet charities should also have rules to protect them from well-meaning staff with little understanding of the donor relationship.

Building an effective knowledge base must be supported by detailed processes and staff accountability. Job descriptions and database tools are the start to capturing quality information. Follow-up in the form of performance reviews and informal discussion is paramount to emphasize the importance of valuable relationship-building content.

In the context of donor data, having a culture of “how” rather than an attitude of “can’t” is vital to ensure a charity not only survives but thrives.

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