This Is Awkward, but Your Data is Leaking

I get it. You’re a small nonprofit. Your budget is stretched to lengths you never knew you could manage. It’s hard to find and pay talented people enough to stick around. To raise money you need to hire people for fundraising, communications, event planning and execution. Paying someone to run your database? You’ll just have to figure it out, there’s no money for that.

And yet…what do your fundraising, communications and event planning people rely on to do their jobs most effectively?

Your database.

In my work with nonprofits of many sizes over the years, I have seen data leaking from the most unexpected areas. It takes a person who knows and works with data to ask the questions that need to be asked to ensure that your organization is using your most important tool most effectively.

Here are some situations I’ve encountered this past year alone:

  1. The organization that didn’t put event attendees in their database unless the attendees also donated, because they didn’t want to pay a higher price to store “non-donors” in their database.
  2. The organization that allowed the website team to capture email sign-ups without looping those people into fundraising messaging, just mission-related content.
  3. The donor team that did not share email addresses of donors with the communications person because they didn’t think about the fact that it’s important for the organization to communicate with their current donors.

Nonprofits are often juggling a variety of tools to accomplish goals — for small nonprofits, the number of tools is infinitely more complicated. They don’t have the budget to purchase an all-encompassing product that acts as donor database, email service provider and website host, where all tools talk to each other and data flows seamlessly between them. So they use an email service provider that works with their website, but not with their donor database. Or their website sends donations directly to their donor database, but doesn’t share the contact information with the email service provider.

When these things happen, donors make gifts but never get emails from the organization. Or the organization sends emails but never asks for donations to support the mission work nonprofits write about so passionately.

In the past several weeks I’ve asked the right questions and finally told a client that they were leaking data everywhere.

When you leak data, you leak dollars.

Going back to fundraising basics, there are three critical elements to a successful fundraising ask:

  1. The Audience
  2. The Offer
  3. The Creative

Or rather, to emphasize in order of importance…

These things happen at no fault of the people in their chairs. The communications person is communicating. The fundraising person is fundraising. The event person is executing successful events. But how much better could each of these people do at their jobs if someone else was helping them make sure they had the right audience?

Ask yourself if data is flowing in all ways, and keep the most important people in your organization in the center of these discussions: your donors.

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