Databases are the backbone of fundraising, helping organisations to hold and manipulate huge amounts of data. This has enabled the rapid growth of supporter based organisations towards the latter part of the last century. Key considerations are whether to use an external database held by an agency or to maintain an in-house system, which hardware and software to utilise and how much data to retain and how to use that data to the best advantage, databases can also be used for research, marketing etc.
Any organisations with serious aspirations for fundraising should get organised and invest in a Fundraising Database. If all you need is to keep a list of contacts, then a standard database like Microsoft Access is perfectly fine, but with so many systems out there, ranging in price from many thousands of pounds to virtually nothing, there is little excuse for not investing in a professional system.
Fundraising Databases are invaluable tools, allowing you to keep track of donations, correspondence, relationships and interests. It will help you to thank people for their support, keep track of new donors and make sure existing donors are asked again in a timely and appropriate fashion. More powerful systems will help you run events and membership schemes, log legacies and track the progress of grants. The best systems are built around what fundraisers actually need and have the flexibility to adapt to the specific circumstances of your organisation. The market leader, by a considerable margin, is Blackbaud’s excellent Raiser’s Edge, which scores well over most other systems thanks to its user friendly interface. However, its high cost puts it out of reach of most small and medium sized charities, who may well be better off looking at one of Blackbaud’s many competitors. Recognising this, Blackbaud have launched The Raiser’s Edge Grow, a cut down version of the full Raiser’s Edge aimed at those smaller organisations.
Other popular mid-ranked systems include Iris Donor Strategy, Thank-Q and Harlequin. At the lowest end, Kiss Contacts may not offer the same usability or power of the other systems, but at only £100, is hard to beat in terms of value.
Your investment in a new database, both in terms of money to purchase the system, and time to import all your existing information onto it and train staff in how to use it, is considerable. Therefore, ensuring that you end up with something that will meet the needs of your organisation is vital. You should talk to all the users and/or potential users of the database within your organisation to get a good understanding of the needs of each department and how many people will be using the database.
Most databases will be hosted in-house (i.e on your servers), but an increasing number are held externally, and access is web-based. This option means you don’t have to worry about the technical requirements, but there is likely to be an additional fee charged by the supplier to hold and maintain the records.
It is worth doing research. Trade fairs provide a great opportunity to meet a number of suppliers, ask questions and see demonstrations. It is also a good idea to talk to other organisations – particularly if they are similar to yours – and asking them about their databases and, crucially, about the quality of the support they receive. From that research, you can draw up a long list of possible suppliers and send them a brief with your requirements clearly laid out. There replies should allow you to create a short list of suppliers who you believe will meet your requirements and are within budget. It is a good idea to invite those shortlisted suppliers to come and demonstrate their system to you, and a selection of those who will use the database, before making a decision.
… …is a process by which data included on the organisation’s internal databases is compared electronically with data on a purpose-built database consisting of individuals who are wealthy and/or influential and/or have a history of philanthropy.
This provides an effective means of identifying individuals who are wealthy and/or well-connected and/or philanthropic and who are also already connected to the organisation in a defined way (e.g. if the database is a mailing list, it is clear that they have expressed an interest in receiving information about the cause or services etc.).
A number of the larger research agencies provide this service and their databases are being constantly improved both in terms of quality and quantity of records, so it is advisable to screen on a regular basis – especially as a number of these agencies will provide an initial summary of results free of both charge and commitment.
…is a process which uses predictive modelling techniques to isolate those individuals within a database most likely to display certain characteristics or behaviours; in this case those most likely to make a major donation. This technique uses statistical analyses of seemingly insignificant attributes of individuals on a database to predict future donation behaviour. For more information, see Peter B. Wylie’s “Data Mining for Fundraisers”.
Clearly those people who have made a larger than average donation without ever being cultivated or asked are of special interest to the major donor fundraiser. Many are ripe for cultivation for a major gift. Further research into those donors who have made a one-off donation of more than £500* unbidden will reveal a certain number whose wealth is visible within the public domain. However, it is important to bear in mind that sometimes a larger gift of, for example, £500 may be in response to the receipt of a relatively modest one-off windfall. Some people who inherit money will make such a donation, but in these cases the long-term prospects of receiving significantly larger donations is generally very low, unless the inheritance is on an exceptionally grand scale.
£500 is used here as an example for the sake of brevity. The actual level applied for this exercise should be determined based on the size of the organisation’s database and the number of larger gifts received from previously unknown prospects.
Lists of the most expensive postcodes are periodically available from a number of sources including mouseprice.com and press sources, or more detailed data about this can be bought direct from Land Registry. Using this information, a it is possible to compile a dataset from the organisation’s database consisting of a high concentration of wealthy individuals. Applying further research to this dataset will reveal which of these can be proven have a high net worth using public domain sources. Many of those on the list for whom no public domain information can be found may well still be wealthy, but if their wealth is privately held, it is impossible to know for certain unless someone who knows them personally is prepared to share this imformation.
Running queries on an organisation’s database searching for certain titles such as Earl, Lord, Sir etc. is another way of compiling a dataset of potentially interesting names. This is rather a blunt instrument and further research is required in most cases in order to identify from within this dataset those individuals who are genuinely wealthy or connected to wealthy people, but it will usually return a few real gems. In particular, one is likely to find people with “old money” and influence using this method.