With 17.4% of overall giving happening in December, there’s no higher-stakes season for fundraising than end-of-year. Don’t leave your results up to chance; your database includes all the tools you need to test in advance and find proven strategies that can help you meet or exceed your fundraising goals. Start mapping out the key steps for making the most of your database several months in advance to ensure that you can enter the holiday giving season with a strong foundation.

Now is the time to ensure that you’re using best practices to allow this powerful tool to work for you. Successful year-end campaigns involve engagement through personalized donor communications, nurturing supporter relationships to encourage them to give. To engage donors in this way, we have to know them, and in fact, we do know a lot about them. But the reality is that we sometimes have so much data to analyze and interpret that it can be hard to know where to start.

Before you become overwhelmed and tempted to take shortcuts, take a step back and think about what you really need and what you are trying to accomplish. To ensure that your database is ready for analytics, the first step is to optimize the information you already have: your donor contact information. You should consider it a hard-and-fast rule that if you don’t have a high-quality name and address for a donor, it will be nearly impossible to derive any kind of insight about that person.

There are a series of best practice techniques which are essentially considered “table stakes” for nonprofits; in other words, these are the processes you need to have in place to take advantage of analytics and testing:

1. Address Standardization:

This process validates addresses against United States Postal Service standards in real time as the data is being keyed in to the database, guaranteeing the quality of the data being added. (In a 2016 analysis, we determined that 14% of all records in nonprofitCRM systems were “un-mailable.” While this percentage has improved some over the years, this still shows address services are not happening nearly often enough.)

2. National Change of Address (NCOA®):

About 11% of the US population moves every year and reports it to the United States Postal Service, which requires that mailers process their data through NCOA® at least once every 95 days to keep mail files currents. (In the analysis mentioned above, we found that over 6% of all nonprofit donor records were out of date, and since out-of-date records can’t be matched to data sources, they are unusable in analytics—not to mention wasting valuable resources in undeliverable direct mail.)

3. Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA®):

Another 5% of the US population moves every year but doesn’t report address changes to anyone other than banks, credit card companies, and utilities. The PCOA® process takes data gathered from those types of organizations and applies it back to the house file, allowing organizations to keep those donor records current. Typically, this process should be run once per year. Unfortunately, many nonprofits use NCOA® but don’t realize PCOA® is an additional option, so the bad data builds up over time, leading to duplicate data for the same donor, disconnected records, and campaign delivery issues.

4. Deceased Suppression:

An organization will lose 2–3% of its house file each calendar year on average due to constituent deaths. Yearly deceased suppression identifies and flags any supporters who have passed away, which keeps the database updated, and removes them from inclusion in analytics.

5. Constituent and Household Identification:

Recent data shows that the average nonprofit will have 10–12% duplicates, largely because of all the issues listed above. With more organizations navigating through multiple data sources—such as direct mail, online giving, peer-to-peer, and even texting—the possibilities of duplicate and inaccurate information is only compounded further. An on-going constituent identification process, also known as a persistent key, will track both the individuals and households existing in your database and provide a consistent link to manage constituents as they migrate across platforms. Going beyond simple name and address matching logic, persistent key processing will review past addresses, common nicknames, and even catch typos to help distinguish unique records from duplicates.

If you’re looking to get even more advanced with your database usage, consider testing data modeling to span the entire donor portfolio to find your high-value prospects from across all programs, not just those that support a single area or campaign. Predictive models can help you pinpoint which constituents are most likely to engage in your campaign, allowing you to put your marketing dollars toward the most viable audiences. Many organizations have seen phenomenal return on insights when leveraging modeling to optimize fundraising in annual, major, and principal giving program. To test those results, make sure that you’re set up to analyze ROI or net revenue by donor characteristics. Some characteristics to consider tracking include cross-program donors, disaster/news event responsive donors, and demographics—like gender, education, and income.

EOY Fundraising Toolkit


John Wilburn is currently a marketing manager for Target Analytics. In his prior career he managed direct response programs for a variety of nonprofits, resulting in countless donors and dollars going to fund some incredible missions.

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