• Direct Mail Appeals: The results of your direct mail appeals are driven by the quality of your mailing list.
  • Email Marketing: The open rates of your email marketing efforts are driven by the accuracy of your email lists.
  • Donor Retention: Want to alienate a donor fast? Write “Dear Mr. & Mrs. Jones” to Ms. Jones who divorced lying, cheating, dead-beat Mr. Jones three years ago. I can assure you, Mrs. Jones will never, ever donate again. Ditto, if Mr. Jones has been deceased for 5 years and she’s called your office twice to let you know.
  • Wasted Money: You’re wasting money. Mailing things to people who moved on years ago means someone is probably throwing away something you paid to print and mail. If it’s something you emailed, you might have paid a subscription fee to some email marketing service for 5,000 subscribers, when really you only need the 2,500 plan.
  • Prospect Identification: If you engage in prospect analysis of any sort, again, you’re wasting money. Send your data out for analysis and you’ll spend money analyzing names and addresses that aren’t valid—a waste.
  • Productivity: You’re wasting time. Looking through your database for potential donors to cultivate, you’ll find “prospects” who are not actual, qualified leads.
  • Major Giving:  Want to succeed with major gifts? You can’t do it without accurate giving histories, correct information on your donors (including contact information for your donor and your agency’s history of communication and visits with him or her) and notes on the donor’s interests. All of this needs to be captured in the database and not in any single individual’s head. If it’s in one individual’s head, you’re one car accident away from total data loss.
  • Endowment and Capital Campaigns: If your organization might ever enter into a capital or endowment campaign, your donor histories are vital.  It’s next to impossible to run a successful endowment or capital campaign without good records of donor engagement.
  • Data analysis, decision making and planning: You can’t make informed decisions about your fundraising efforts without good, clean data. How do you really know your retention rate? Your ROI? You can’t make good, informed decisions about your fundraising efforts and plans without good data.
  • Job Security: Hey, fundraisers:  here’s one more reason, as if all of those other reasons are enough to make a persuasive case: self-interest and preservation. If we clean up our data, I will wager, what we’ll find is that our retention rates, response rates, ROI, and many other measures of success will improve because we will have eliminated much of the “null” value information. For example, if I mail my direct mail appeal to 100 people and 30 respond with gifts, I have a 30% response rate, but if only 70 of the addresses were actually valid and 30 of the envelopes never reached anyone and were tossed in the trash by postal workers or the “current resident” who received them, then my “response rate” was depressed by the fact that I’m not mailing to the constituents I think I am mailing to. If, instead, I had only sent 70 letters (saving my organization on printing and postage), and had received 30 responses, I would have had a 50% response rate! That’s a much better success rate, isn’t it?

Good data is essential. We depend on it in so many ways. Yet, we take it for granted. In the nonprofit sector we tend to not invest

  • In the tools we need to properly manage our data
  • In the training we need to successfully manage our data
  • In the time and talent we need to consistently attend to our data management

We want donor retention, good response rates, successful major giving and capital campaigns. Our organization’s board members might not think of their wants in those words. The board members might think of their wants in more broad, general words like “we want more money,” but as development professionals, we know that “wanting more money” means that we want better donor retention, faster response rates on donor stewardship, better return rates on appeals, etc. 

All of the things we want (and all the things our organization’s leaders want) depend on having good data.

There are many things as development professionals we might want to resolve to do in 2016—getting out of our offices more, spending more time face-to-face with our donors, hand-writing more thank you notes. All of these things are great resolutions, but perhaps the one key thing we can do that would have an impact on the results of so many other things is resolve to clean up our data.