You don’t want to be MacGyver with your donor data | npENGAGE

You don’t want to be MacGyver with your donor data

By on Feb 22, 2011


Let’s face it, spreadsheets are great at lots of things. They’re an easy tool built to satisfy the MacGyver in all of us as we battle through our daily tasks. They’re entirely flexible (my coworker used one to inventory all her packing boxes when she moved house last year – she’s that organized). But when it comes to storing precious supporter data—user beware. There are several good reasons not to trust any spreadsheet with organizational gold.

Highly customized communications are the name of the game when it comes to engaging and recruiting supporters. To keep pace with increasingly tech-savvy constituents, you’ll need technology that can assess your program work, develop performance reports and dashboards, and provide a centralized, 360° view of your supporters. Before, that might have meant utilizing many different applications, a dedicated and patient IT staff, and dreaded hours spent sifting through spreadsheets. Today, with smart donor databases and CRM solutions, it can be as simple as one technology solution that takes the idea of donor management to a whole new level.

Here are my top three reasons to consider calling it a day when it comes to spreadsheets as your donor database.

  1. The right people, the right approach, the right ask.  It’s critical that you’re able to hit all three targets before you begin an integrated marketing strategy. Your appeal is only as good as your information, and in this case, using the wrong information in your campaigns could seriously hurt your supporter relationships. Spreadsheets  can’t always guarantee that kind of accuracy; they’re just not that deep.  I’m going to be insulted if you ask for too little, and offended if you ask for too much. Either way, it says you don’t know me.
  2. You need to synchronize your online and offline systems. To be truly effective at integrated marketing, your online and offline data should be in sync. Wouldn’t it be nice if all that was kept in the same system? And wouldn’t it be even nicer if you didn’t have to go back and manually update all your spreadsheets with every thank you note, email, tweet, Facebook post, phone call, or face to face meeting?
  3. A spreadsheet is not a relational database. If you’re relying on spreadsheets to keep track of your data, establishing and maintaining the link between all your multiple levels of information (people, the organizations they work for, volunteer programs, gifts, to name just a few) is up to you and your staff, and your success depends on how much time you can devote to chasing down data, as opposed to actual fundraising. Especially because of ornery people like me, who tend to involve myself in multiple ways (so I’m on the donor list, the volunteer list, and the lists for perhaps 2 out of every 5 events you throw)  – good luck keeping my contact info up-to-date across all those spreadsheets!

This is just the tip of the iceberg; we quickly came up with two handfuls of reasons why spreadsheets are   great for tracking numbers, but not for constituent management. And one of them is SAFETY. Check out how to avoid a truly dangerous data crisis, and have all the reasons ready to whip out of your pocket when you talk to your team – just download our list: “10 reasons to cheat on your spreadsheet.”


From time to time, a guest blogger will appear on npENGAGE. Guest bloggers are industry experts contributing useful, relevant content to the conversation on npENGAGE. If you are interested in being a guest blogger, contact the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *