The keys to a really great database are accuracy and consistency. Misspellings often make the difference as to whether a prospective donor opens the envelope. It will take up to two years to get your database in really great shape and have it ready to do marathon level fundraising. Consider the following:
Create a system for gathering information that is followed by all staff and volunteers
Initially decide what information you need to capture and create a form that is accessible by everyone. Other than the basics, name, address, phone, email, and spouse’s information, you might want to know the name of their pets or the church/synagogue they belong to. Do they want to receive the newsletter or do they have an interest in a particular program that you run? This will differ from organization to organization. Also you need to develop a written policy for data entry. If everyone follows the same set of guidelines, it is more likely that your data will be accurate and consistent.
Cleaning time – Send your database to a service for basic database hygiene
Yes, your data needs to be scrubbed clean. You should send your database for an address hygiene service at least once a year, preferably twice. There are many companies that do this. You want a company that does NCOA (National Change of Address which updates addresses for people who have moved in the past 48 months). Select a company that has CASS certification, LACS and is a full service licensee of the United States Postal Service.
Do an email append on your database
As the cost of postage continues to rise, email will become a preferred method for sending a thank you and distributing newsletters. Many nonprofits develop strategic email initiatives to drive people to their web site to make donations. The advantage is the opportunity this method provides to educate donors and prospects and raise more money online. An email append is not inexpensive, but worth the cost. This process includes sending an email that allows the receivers to opt-out. The result is that you receive deliverable, permission-approved email addresses.
Run a duplicate name report
You should run a duplicate name report prior to sending your database for the hygiene service. It is also recommended that you run it before implementing a large mailing. If you run the duplicate name report twice a year, it will cost less when you send your data for the hygiene service. Once you have identified the duplicate records, take the time to merge and purge records.
Review the business name report
The first thing you want to check for is duplicates and spelling. Business names often appear in a database two or more times because the name is spelled differently on the existing records. Also review the contact information for accuracy. People change jobs. If you are asking a business for financial support, confirm that you are communicating with the right person.
Review foundation contact information
If you write grants, take the time to understand the foundation you are submitting your proposal to and have accurate information regarding the contacts at the foundation. Also take the time to note on the foundation record when grants are due, do they require a letter of inquiry, and any other key information that will make the process easier for you and enhance your experience with the foundation.