For nonprofits, customer relationship management (CRM) databases are libraries of donor information that enable essential activities like contacting donors, accounting for financial history, and noting primary relationships with an institution.

Your database only functions as well as the staff managing it. Building human-backed processes and systems for CRM maintenance will help your nonprofit strengthen its library of institutional knowledge on donors and empower fundraisers with the information they need to succeed.

DO educate your staff on the importance of tracking the information of friends and donors within a single platform.

Fundraising is a team sport. Whether you’re a frontline fundraiser or a program manager, a culture of philanthropy is important for identifying long-term relationships that lead to larger gifts for your institution. Tracking relationships within a central database is key to this success, and wards against losing knowledge over time with the natural transition of staff to new roles and responsibilities.

Train your fundraising staff to:

  • Understand the importance of inserting timely, accurate, and compliant information into the database
  • Engage in conversations with programmatic staff to identify and build knowledge on potential donors, referral sources, and partners for strategizing gift requests
  • Correctly input donor interests, actions, relationships, proposals, and other materials within your CRM

DON’T assume that database maintenance or usage is just one person’s job.

In high-functioning development offices, all staff members have basic knowledge of how to use the database to do their specific jobs. Whether you’re a frontline fundraiser, development assistant, prospect researcher, events coordinator, or administrative support staff member, all have a role to play in keeping institutional knowledge up to date.

Ensure all staff members are aware of basic information the institution gathers from donors, what to do when they learn a donor’s name and information are incorrect, and how to search for donors and pertinent information within the database.

DO develop a process for regularly updating and maintaining donor contact information.

As the adage goes, what gets measured gets managed. Become familiar with the percentage of donors within your database for which you have incorrect emails and mailing addresses recorded. Create a plan to proactively improve the quality of data within your system.

  • Inquire with your CRM provider to learn if your software includes a direct mail/email address validator or a feature to review deceased records. If your database does not, seek an online batch address validation tool.
  • Regularly screen your database for incomplete contact information and encourage relationship managers to help fill in the gaps. Note what percentage of entries are incomplete.
  • Assign one or more point person(s) for inserting new donors into your system, updating donor contact information and salutations, noting donors who are deceased, and documenting the assignment of primary solicitors and relationship managers.

DON’T assume all employees have equal technical skills and time to learn your database.

Usually, some staff members are more technologically adept than others. And frontline fundraisers prioritize engaging donors more than data entry! But the good news is that baseline database skills can be acquired with intentional and targeted training. There are also batch data upload tools and tricks you can employ to help streamline data entry and save end-users’ time.

It is important to meet staff where they are and gradually build their capacity with continuous, ongoing training and informational refreshers. Tailor the training to cover reports the staff member would be accountable for inserting data into and/or need to utilize regularly. In addition, supply easy-to-use glossaries of terms and quick how-to documents to help staff recall learnings.

Is your organization considering how to build an effective fundraising data and reporting structure? CCS Fundraising can help. To learn more about our Systems services, contact Allison Willner, Vice President of Data Strategy, at systems@ccsfundraising.com.

CCS Fundraising is a consulting firm that works with nonprofits. We provide campaign counsel, strategic planning, and other services to strengthen development efforts for charities.

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About the Author

Mariama Holman is a Senior Director at CCS Fundraising. She has nearly a decade of proven impact in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and loves partnering with clients to improve operations, data analysis, and insights reporting. Since joining CCS in 2018, Mariama has worked with nonprofits across the country to lead multi-million-dollar campaigns and design technology systems for fundraising strategy and performance measurement. Prior to working with CCS, she completed an MBA and MA in Arts Administration at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, and worked with the City of Dallas Office of Arts and Culture and Americans for the Arts. During this time, she developed an interest in applying an analyst mindset to advancing social and civic causes. In 2017 she was honored in the Bocconi for Digital Public Innovation Award Competition for planning an application for multi-modal transit. She and her team were also invited to engage young women interested in careers in technology at the UN Women’s STEM in the City Conference in Milan, Italy.