The top 10 fundraising database issues: Overcome them and you are on your way to data health

database health Jan 20, 2023
Fundraising Database Issues

Fundraising database issues can keep you from reaching your fundraising goals. Your fundraising database should be the hub -- the destination -- for everyone in your development department. To achieve this, your fundraising database must be clean, tidy, logical, and friendly. For every working person on the planet, when they start their day, they open their email to check in on what is happening. The perfect scenario for development professionals is to open their email....but then also open their fundraising database. 

Fundraising Database Issues

If you can tackle and overcome these top 10 fundraising database issues, you are well on your way to data health and integrity!

Fundraising database issues can hurt your fundraising efforts and your donors' experiences. Let’s put this into perspective. As a major gift officer, you could do a beautiful job of cultivating and soliciting, but if your donor doesn’t receive an acknowledgment for two weeks, that’s an issue. If your donor doesn’t receive their pledge reminder on time, another issue. If your fundraising operations professional struggles with pulling mailing lists because of the state of the database, some important donors and prospects could accidentally be omitted. If your database is riddled with duplicate records, it will be difficult to understand a donor’s full giving picture and affect your prospect research.

Let's talk through the top 10 fundraising database issues that we see when we clean up databases. These are in no particular order as they are all troublesome in their own special ways...

Duplicate Constituents. These are the worst! They wreak havoc on your reporting and mailing lists (and on your sanity!). This can be a big undertaking if you are sitting on years and years of duplicates. Merging records isn't rocket science, so you might consider asking your colleagues to help out. If everyone in the department merged 10 records a day, you can make a dent!

Pledges with no payment schedules. My blood pressure just went up thinking about this. When a pledge is entered, it must have a payment schedule. The payment schedule drives your reminders, and if you don't send reminders, you don't get your payments. If no pledge payment schedule has been decided, the major gift officer should be charged with going back to the donor to work out the schedule.

Conflicting Communication Codes. Oftentimes we see databases where a constituent is coded as "do not mail" but then that same constituent is also coded as "mail newsletter." What the what? Honoring donor communication preferences is super important and these codes need to be in good shape so you can comply with your donors' requests. At least twice a year, go through and look for conflicting communication codes and fix them accordingly.

Missing Gift Codes. Oddly enough, the issue with gift coding isn't always the codes are wrong -- it's the lack of coding. We often find that the only pieces of data that are captured are gift date, gift amount, and designation. If you don't track your solicitations and campaigns, how will you know what is working or not working? Every gift should include 1) the fund that the donor has designated the gift to and 2) the channel that inspired the gift.

Outdated Security. When someone leaves your organization, they shouldn't still have access to your fundraising database. You would be shocked (shocked!) at how often we are sunsetting users that haven't worked at the organization in 2 or more years. Take a look at the security settings in your fundraising database quarterly to make sure things are in good shape.

Funds do not match Finance. I want to be very clear...if the funds in your fundraising database do not match the funds in Finance's database, you will never reconcile. It is imperative that your funds exactly echo what Finance has, and Finance should drive which funds should be active. This is also critical in ensuring that donor dollars are restricted to what the donor requested.

Addressees & Salutations. Your nonprofit organization should have established standards around how you'll address your donors (either formally or informally). This is easier said than done because there are many ways to address donors. For example, will your nonprofit organization use the prefix "Dr." or use "M.D." as a suffix? Pull a list of all addressees and salutations and fix the ones that don't meet the standard.

Relationships are outdated. Relationships between donors is what makes your database a relational, robust system. The challenge is keeping up with those relationships in your donor database, especially corporate and foundation contacts. This takes the village and major gift officers and grant officers should be trained on how to update these contacts. That also goes for their own portfolios.

Custom Fields are Out of Control. As time goes on, many attributes and custom fields lose their meaning. One staff member tagged a bunch of records, but that staffer isn't there any longer. So no one knows what that code means. If no one knows what a code means, it should probably go. Custom fields should be purposeful codes that everyone in the fundraising department understands and uses.

Everybody uses Notes Instead of the Right Fields. Fundraisers love their notes. The challenge is that notes are hard to query on because they are free text fields. I find that fundraisers use notes instead of putting data in the actual field. This occurs when marking donors deceased, using notes to record donor interactions, and others. 

If you can overcome these, you have taken a HUGE step toward database health. We've probably missed a few fundraising database issues. Comment below to tell us what your biggest issue is.

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