think data is dull? think againFrom

Think data is dull?

Too often, data isn’t given the weight it deserves in our fundraising programs. Buy the cheapest donor management system. Give data entry to the intern. Just tell me the bottom line; I don’t have to understand how to run reports.

That’s a serious mistake.

Because in fundraising, data isn’t the opposite of relationships. It’s what good relationships are built on.

Don’t believe me?

Think about your best friend. What do you know about him or her? Birthday? Favorite drink? Pet peeves? Where she lives. What car he drives. How many siblings.

And on and on.

Every one of those details is a data point. Together, all those things are glue that holds you and your friend together. Memories. Details. The things that make individuals… individual.

So when you think about donor relations, why shy away from data?

In the past couple of years, I lost my parents. But in my head, they live on – in countless, small, memories. Each memory by itself might seem unremarkable. But together – together, they’re everything.

Each one of those memories, each detail, is like the data you can keep about your donors. Treasure that information as I treasure my memories.

Everything you know, everything you learn should be captured and categorized well. Not in a creepy way. But because the better you are able to communicate with someone personally – according to their wishes – the more rewarding that communication will be for your donor.

Now, in our social lives, scientists tell us we can manage about 150 friendships at once. That’s not because we don’t care. But there are limits to our brain size, attention span and the time it takes to nurture friendships.

Your organization may have many more than 150 relationships to manage. That’s why how you chose to keep that information is so important.

You need a real donor management system

Make it a priority – because it will be critical to your fundraising success. It’s an investment, not an expense. And it’s one of the most important you can make. (Along with people. Invest in good people and work to keep them around!)

Fortunately, there are a number of excellent choices out there now. And at least one will fit your organization’s unique needs. (Don’t know where to start? Read this guide.)

Don’t start with price. Start with what kind of information you’ll need to keep. Do you have a membership program? Do you sell tickets? Do you need to keep academic or alumni records?

Make sure it’s easy to use. You shouldn’t need weeks of training. A good system makes sense right from installation. It should also come with support – real human support as well as tutorials or videos.

Then make sure you use it well.

So many “impossible” to use systems are simply not being used correctlyInput the information badly and you’ll leave a mess for the next person to deal with. You have to think for the long term. “In 5 years, will the way I’m recording this make sense?” “Will I be able to make relevant comparisons year over year?”

(This is why data entry isn’t a job for the intern. Unless that intern is wicked smart and detail-oriented.)

Use data to grow relationships1

When I was a staff member, I did a lot of data entry. Yes, it can be dull at times.

But do you know what else it meant? When I had the chance to meet a donor in person, I already knew a whole lot about them. Even something as simple as “Oh my goodness! You’ve been supporting us now for 15 years! That means the world to us – YOU mean the world to us. Thank you.”

Maybe that donor didn’t expect to rise to the level of personal treatment. Maybe they “only” gave $35 every year. But because my fingers had been busy recording their donations, I had a leg up. And because of what I knew, now they felt important.

Keep reminding yourself that this isn’t just information you’re collecting to raise money. It’s the details that make relationships. You’re keeping important details so you can treat donors like people you care about.

Taking care of your data means taking care of your donors – and your mission.


Photo by Thomas William on Unsplash