The Cost of Out of Date Donor Information

It might not be the most exciting topic to think about, but consider this: how your constituents react to your organization is a result of how they perceive you. If your communications with your constituents are in any way inaccurate, that is what they remember. Not your message. Having clean and accurate data doesn’t just leave a good impression, it allows your mission and message to come through loud and clear.

Whether it be mailings that are regularly returned because of incorrect addresses that never get updated in the database, or board members that have requested the same salutation correction more than once, nonprofit organizations are at the mercy of their data cleanliness – no matter how strong their CRM or donor management strategy and system is. In our 16 years of consulting, every one of our 800 clients has mentioned data accuracy as an issue at one time or another.

To ensure you are communicating the right message, think about what kinds of donor data you keep in your database. You can break it down into 3 basic categories: Who they are; why they give; and what they donate. Each of these segments of data is important for different reasons.

Who They Are
Names, addresses, phone numbers, salutations, relationship to your organization. Each of these aspects of a donor’s demographic information has to be correct. In some ways, correctness of their data is a stewardship vehicle. When you know what to call them and where to send them mail, you are acknowledging that they are an important part of your organization’s community and you show you care about them by doing it correctly.

Why They Give
Knowing what connects a donor to your organization is one of the most important aspects of fundraising. How else can you know what to message to them so they will understand the importance of making a donation to you? Consider what happens when the data from that rating and screening you did four years ago goes unused: Now you know what was important to your donors four years ago. But, will that help you now? Most likely not. It’s old data that was never used when it was new to bring you closer to your donors. Be sure to continually update your database with fresh information on why your donors are giving.

What They Donate
Accurately tracking donations allows you to appropriately target future asks, as well as show donors good stewardship of their dollars. Knowing how the gift was made and where it needs to go to satisfy the donor’s request are basic principles of any fundraising program. When these things can’t be tracked, it’s hard to analyze fundraising strategy performance to improve for the future, as well as ensure donations are being used appropriately.

I’m pretty sure you have an idea of how accurate the data is in your database. One way you can tell is by how frequently donors or prospects call to correct their name or address, or how many newsletter returns you have to process after each mailing.

There are several things you can do to help minimize the inaccurate information that is stored in your system. It’s not always easy, but you can make great strides to address the problem. Here are a few tips:

  1. Identify the most important pieces of demographic and financial information and make sure they’re accurate. Hiring a third party who specializes in this type of work – especially if your database is large — can make this process go faster, provide a higher value per dollar spent, and allow you to continue your daily work while the clean-up takes place.
  2. Encourage fundraising staff members to use the database. Make sure gift officers know where to put information such as interests, gifts to other organizations, and relationships within the community. These are all ways to track a donor’s affinity and interest in your organization, and they should all be in your database so you can prospect appropriately and connect with your donors at the right level.
  3. Create a plan for how frequently — and when — to run data screening services like National Change of Address (NCOA) updates or email finding programs. It’s always a good idea to do this prior to any big mailing, like a quarterly newsletter, to get address updates before spending the money on postage. And, make sure you have a process for getting the updated data back into your database.

Our experience tells us this: Every step you can take toward consistent and standard use of storing information in your database will be a step toward ensuring your constituents see your mission instead of your mistakes.

What steps are you taking to ensure accurate donor data in your database? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Kim is a project management expert who leads Heller Consulting teams to help nonprofit organizations solve their database problems and implement the right constituent management systems for their organizations.

This article was orgininally published at and is reprinted with permission.

Kim Kupferman
Director of Professional Services
Heller Consulting
Kim is a project management expert who leads Heller Consulting teams to help nonprofit organizations solve their database problems and implement the right constituent management systems for their organizations.