• Paula Alionyte

Why a well-maintained database is instrumental in developing exceptional supporter care

The very first thing I hear every time I mention to someone that it is very important to maintain a great level of detail, precision and regular updating when it comes to their database, is this:

“Oh, I am not really a data person”

“We don’t really have that many donors”

“I know the people who give to us”

I listen and I nod, but I don’t always agree. I started my career as a data entry assistant at a very international university, where we worked with thousands of student files, tirelessly trying to record every bit of information we could find on various systems, in order to piece together some kind of analytics to help us understand our alumni better.

After months of hard work and countless afternoons thinking to myself that we are wasting our time, the project started to bear fruits. We had enough information to be able to do light touch desktop research and find out about people’s career successes, we discovered a lot of high achievers – business owners, motivational speakers, fashion label owners, medical and legal professionals.

We reached out to them and, after another good couple of months of seamless interaction, we got to meet some of them and invite them to share their stories with our current students. Doesn’t it sound great?

If we go back to the beginning of the project, all we had was lots and lots of meaningless data scattered across different platforms, sitting on different people’s computers. When we put it like this, when we talk about people as “data”, it somehow makes us forget that this “data” is about people – it is the information about who they are and what they are about.

Your database is not just a platform that holds all of your data, it’s your wealth bank, it’s your go-to place every time you have a question about the people that support you. There is so much you can tell about the organisation from their supporter base, and there is an enormous amount of knowledge that can be taken from it to plan ahead.

How, I hear you ask?

Think about the information you currently hold. Is it all held within one database? “Database” here does not mean some expensive system developed by a far-away corporate that helps you manage your donations, it can be anything as simple as an Excel spreadsheet.

How quickly can you tell me what the giving patterns are? How easily can you update me on the average cash gift this month? How many people are having their giving anniversaries next month? How many people could you invite to a breakfast briefing event? How many are interested in your, let’s say, projects related to education? How many people are more likely to support your work in, for example, in Bangladesh rather than Nepal? Where are the geographical clusters of people who give to you (in other words, where do people live)? These questions are incredibly easy to answer when your database holds all this information in one place.

When you understand who you work with, you can plan your communications and fundraising goals to include your supporters in the day-to-day activities of your organisation and not only the process of making a donation. People want to feel that they’re supporting your work, not helping you keep your invoices paid.

Coming back to data, the more information you have about the people that support you, the easier it is for you make plans for your communications and fundraising work in the future. The last thing you want to do is contact people with boring generic updates on your projects asking them for yet another standard donation. You need to learn to personalise your communications, especially, if you’re a small charity, as you are likely to have a tiny but incredibly loyal supporter base.

What you need to do? You want to make notes every time to speak to your supporters and record information about any special events that happen in their lives (if they tell you about their new holiday home in France or that they just got a dog, these things are important to them!). You want to thank them if they happen to increase their monthly regular gift, even if it’s only a small amount (you won’t always easily see the change in the bank statement, so you need to keep a close eye on it).

How do they prefer to receive their acknowledgments? You need to make notes of that too – they might enjoy a good old chat on the phone or maybe they appreciate a thank you card with a personal touch? How do you know what they like? Try out different methods and see what sticks! And, of course, make notes about what they don’t like too!

Essentially, all you need to do is listen to you supporters and record it.

Data works in the same way in every area of life: the more of it we have, the better we understand how things work. Isn’t it what they’re currently doing with self-driven cars? They’re testing them, collecting data and, by using that data, the engineers are making the cars more intelligent and less likely to malfunction or make mistakes.

We need to mimic this process in supporter relationships management: we need to collect more data to make us more knowledgeable of who we work with and, in that way, we will be on the path to build more meaningful, deep connections with people.

I am offering five free 30-minute consultation sessions over the phone (first come first serve basis) to any small international development charities in the UK with any questions, thoughts or concerns about their database and supporter care. I am happy to assist you in improving your data collection and management practices and give you tips on how to be more effective. Get in touch with me to book a session at paula@fairdevelopment.co.uk.

#database #supportercare #relationships #relationshipbuilding #fundraising #communications #datacollection #analytics #research