Donor Data: Increase Your Donations in 5 Simple Steps

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Posted on December 1, 2016 by Harbor Compliance in Fundraising and Grants.

This post is brought to you by our friends at Donor Search, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy.

Donor data is the basis of your fundraising strategy. It is, after all, the totality of the information that you have about your donors.

To use your donor data to its full potential, you’ll need to know how to prepare your data, what indicators to look for, and how to interpret what you have.

Following these steps can help you maximize your data and increase the donations that you receive:

  1. Clean your data.
  2. Perform prospect research.
  3. Pinpoint preferred communication channels.
  4. Use business affiliations.
  5. Identify past giving to other organizations.

Using donor data allows you to create an informed fundraising strategy that reaches and engages donors.

Let’s break each step down one by one.


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Before you can use your data to increase donations, you need to make sure that it’s accurate in the first place.

Donors move. Donors get married. They change their names and switch jobs. As your donors are growing and changing, so are their contact details.

Keeping your donor data clean can ensure that your organization is up-to-date on these important changes.

Don’t waste the postage on a letter sent to an out-of-date address. Don’t offend a donor who has recently taken their spouse’s name. And don’t isolate a donor who prefers their nickname over their given name.

Though these are all seemingly small details, you’re working to forge a bond with your supporters. Paying attention to the details of who they are is important for reaching your donors effectively.

To clean your data, you’ll want to keep it consistent across the board. Data that’s gathered through your fundraising channels may be inconsistent due to variations during the entry or transfer process. For example, if you’re using peer-to-peer fundraising software, new donor data may be input into your database based on the way a donor entered their information.

Developing data standards can help you adjust any inconsistencies so that duplicate profiles can easily be consolidated and information can be accessed efficiently.

These standards can include:

  • The way an address is written (i.e. Street vs St.).
  • Whether blank fields are left empty or otherwise indicated.
  • How deceased or lapsed donors are identified.

These are only a few of the possibilities for standardization. Once your data is consistent, remove lapsed donors (of 2 or more years) and verify the information you have. Resources like the NCOA can help you double check donors’ addresses.

The takeaway: With verified, accurate, and up-to-date information, you can ensure that you’re using your time and resources efficiently.

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Prospect research is the act of finding out information about donor groups or individuals so that you can learn more about who they are as potential contributors to your organization.

You may, for instance, perform prospect research on your charity auction attendees or on a specific donor who’s given loyally to your organization. In both cases, prospect research involves pinpointing certain indicators and traits that can help you better understand a donor.

Prospect research is often used to identify high-level donors, such as major gift donors and planned gift donors. These donors may be hiding in your database, giving below their capacities, or they may be prospects who’ve yet to engage with your organization.

Either way, prospect research helps a nonprofit determine two key traits about a potential donor:

  • The prospect’s interest in giving a gift.
  • The prospect’s financial capacity to follow through with their interest.

It essentially assesses donor giving capacity by learning more about a donor’s philanthropic and wealth histories with the assistance of various databases and other resources. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why it’s such a prominent nonprofit tool.

Identifying a donor’s willingness and ability to give can help nonprofits create targeted asks that don’t leave money on the table. Additionally, prospect research can be used to find points of contact so that your nonprofit can connect more naturally with the donor in question.

For example, the following data points can be used to better understand how a donor can best fit into your organization:

  • Past giving history.
  • Philanthropic involvement.
  • Business affiliations.
  • Alma maters.
  • Political giving.
  • SEC transactions.
  • Real estate ownership.
  • Personal interests.
  • Familial and spousal relations.
  • Preferred giving channels.

There’s a reason this list is long; there’s a lot to learn about your donors! Prospect research can help you flesh out these areas of a donor’s profile, so that you can create a more comprehensive fundraising strategy.

That all being said, prospect research has plenty of uses beyond identifying major giving candidates.

For one, at a base level, prospect research helps an organization learn more about its donors on the whole and construct more effective fundraising strategies. That’s an invaluable benefit when it comes to donor relations.

The takeaway: Prospect research can help you learn more about your donors and identify major gift candidates. You can use the information that you learn to create more targeted appeals and asks based upon a donor’s willingness and ability to give.

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Just like you wouldn’t want to address a donor by the incorrect name, you should avoid reaching out to donors through channels they won’t respond to.

Luckily, in our modern era of donor communications, there’s no shortage of communication channels:

  • Direct mail
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Phone 
  • Mobile
  • Websites

However, the more communication avenues there are, the more complex donor preferences become. For instance, even within a category such as mobile giving, you have to account for everything from text-to-give to mobile emails.

Additionally, some donors may prefer to communicate via one channel, but give via another. For example, many donors enjoy the experience of receiving a tangible letter in the mail but may prefer to give through a secure online donation page instead of mailing a check.

When you write fundraising appeals, be sure to send them through the communication channel that receives the highest response rate from your donors. You can segment your donors by their preferred communication channels, so that each one receives your materials in they way they’d like.

However, you’ll also want to cross-promote different marketing channels so that donors can both give and receive through their preferred mediums.

A multichannel marketing strategy means that each communication provides a promotion or link to another communication opportunity. For example, mailed letters should include the URL for your nonprofit’s website or instructions on how to use text-to-give. Likewise, an email can allow donors to sign up for a printed newsletter or follow your nonprofit’s social media channels.

The point is that you can reach your donors where they already are by providing them with plenty of opportunities to engage and interact with your organization. Providing them with different communication channels can increase the chances that they’ll respond to what you’re sending in one form or another.

To get started, check your fundraising metrics to see which types of communications have yielded the highest response rates and from whom. Online fundraising software can help you analyze and interpret your communications data (this @Pay guide can help you get started!).

For example, your CRM can help you keep track of email open rates, and various platforms can show your engagement over social media. These tools can help your organization determine your most viable channels, as well as those that need improvement.

It won’t be a perfect science, but it will be a step in the right direction.

The takeaway: Use your donor data to identify donors’ preferred communication and giving channels so that you can create a multi-faceted and effective communications strategy.

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Donors, like most people, spend a great majority of their days working or resting in retirement. For this reason, donors are often highly connected to the people they work with (or have worked with).

Understanding a donor’s business affiliations can help you gain insight into your donors’ lives.

After all, knowing a donor’s position is one means of determining their giving capacity. Understanding their industry can help you identify crossover between their occupation and your cause (a pet store owner, for example, would fit right in with an animal welfare organization).

Even moreso, a donor’s business affiliations can help you identify opportunities for corporate partnerships and matching gift programs.

Matching gifts occur when a company matches the gift of one of its employees. Here’s how the process works:

  1. The donor gives to your nonprofit.
  2. The donor applies for a matching gift by following their company’s guidelines and procedures.
  3. The company checks to make sure that the nonprofit is eligible to receive a matching gift.
  4. The company cuts a check to your nonprofit for the same amount as the original donation (although some companies will match at higher ratios, with some going as high as 4:1!).
  5. Your nonprofit receives twice as much! The impact of a single donor’s gift has been doubled.

Identifying matching gift opportunities in your donor data can help you inform donors of the process. They may, after all, be unaware that matching gift programs exist!

Search for employees who belong to companies that offer matching gift programs in your area (this 360MatchPro guide lists top matching gift companies to help you get started).

You can also search for CEOs or business owners, as well as high-level employees who may have influence over their company. These connections in your database can give your nonprofit a pathway toward building corporate partnerships.

These prospects may be willing to support your nonprofit in other ways, such as:

  • Sponsorships for events.
  • In-kind donations.
  • Internal employee fundraising.
  • Cause marketing.
  • Community grants.

There are plenty of opportunities for businesses to get involved with nonprofits. And, as philanthropy is becoming more important in the corporate world, many businesses will be glad to support your cause.

The Takeaway: Use your donors’ business affiliations to identify opportunities for matching gifts and corporate partnerships.

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It is extremely beneficial for your organization to be as aware as possible of your donors’ philanthropic giving elsewhere.

You know what they’ve given to your cause, and you’ve acknowledged it accordingly, but what about their other philanthropic interests? Knowledge of said interests can play a pivotal role in how you grow your nonprofit’s relationship with a given donor.

Their philanthropic history elsewhere is significant for two main reasons:

  • Reason #1: It gives you a point of comparison to better understand the size of the gifts they donate.
  • Reason #2: It helps round out your knowledge of the donor’s philanthropic mindset.

Let’s discuss both in more detail.

Reason #1: It gives you a point of comparison to better understand the size of the gifts they donate.

This kind of information can be extremely beneficial when you’re looking to upgrade donors. Say you perform a bulk screening of your donor pool and find out that Philanthropic Patrick, a mid-level gift donor at your organization, is a major gift contributor to a similar organization.

With that knowledge, your team will be better equipped to engage him and possibly upgrade him to a higher giving level.

You can use the knowledge of a donor’s giving abilities to set fundraising goals that don’t leave money on the table, and you can increase the amount in your direct asks after the donor has been properly cultivated.

Reason #2: It helps round out your knowledge of the donor’s philanthropic mindset.

Reason #2 is the more significant of the pair when it comes to donor experience. Beyond asking for contributions, you want to be actively engaging with your donors. Treat them like people, like supporters. Do not treat them as if they’re only good for their money.

Donors are an integral part of your organization’s support system and deserve to be treated as such.

When you can deduce what makes them tick, philanthropically speaking, you situate your nonprofit in a better place to offer engagement activities that truly resonate with those donors.

For instance, maybe one of your donors contributes because they feel strongly about a particular cause you’ve been lobbying for. Loop that donor into a related advocacy campaign by inviting her to a rally or asking her to sign your online petition. Pull out all the stops!

You want to create impactful and long-lasting ties to your organization, and this is just one way of doing so.

The takeaway: By identifying past giving, you can curate a more personalized path toward engagement that’s based on donors’ interests and giving capacities.

Helpful donor data is out there for the taking. Don’t let such valuable information go to waste.

Get out there, start researching, and make some changes to the way you foster relationships with your donors. Improved donor stewardship awaits!

Bonus step: Don’t lose out on the increased donations you’ll receive by following these strategies. Ensure that you’re managing charitable solicitation compliance so that you don’t get slapped with preventable fines! 


About the Author:

Sarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.