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4 Ways to Make the Most Out of Your Donor Data

Author: Sayana Izmailova
November 16, 2020
🕑 8 min read

This is a guest post from Sarah Tedesco, Executive Vice President of DonorSearch 


Consider what your nonprofit knows about just one individual supporter. 


You have their contact details, as well as some background information like their demographics, interests, and geographic location. You hopefully have a detailed history of their relationship with your nonprofit — every past donation, event attendance, volunteer opportunity, or other engagement. And you may even have a record of unique details specific to your nonprofit’s mission (for instance, an animal shelter might track whether each supporter prefers dogs or cats).

Even if you don’t capture every one of those fields, that’s a lot of data! Now multiply that information by the number of supporters you have in your donor database, then add in relationships between some of those supporters. And consider that every day, as donations are made and outreach activities occur, the pool of data only grows. 

When considering just how much information there is to sift through, it’s no surprise that many fundraising teams may struggle to take full advantage of the data available. However, it’s possible for even small nonprofits with limited resources to leverage donor data to its maximum potential.

At DonorSearch, we provide actionable information that can improve the fundraising efforts of nonprofits of all sizes. We’ve seen firsthand the difference that a strong donor data strategy can have on engagement, retention, and revenue, so we’ve compiled a list of our top recommendations to fortify your own approach.

We’ll cover the following simple but effective ways to make the most of your nonprofit’s donor data: 

  1. Conduct prospect research to identify potential major donors

  2. Create more effective and personalized communications

  3. Encourage supporters to get involved with your organization in new ways 

  4. Plan and execute virtual events that will engage supporters

With these tips, you’ll be well-equipped to put one of your most valuable resources to good use instead of just drowning in a sea of data. Let’s get started.


1. Conduct Prospect Research to Identify Potential Major Donors


Prospect research is the practice of collecting and utilizing information about prospective donors’ backgrounds in order to evaluate their likelihood of giving or becoming a major donor. It may include analyzing the data you already have available as well as drawing from additional records.

Different data points collected during prospect research typically fall into two major categories:


  • Wealth indicators include stock holdings, business affiliations, political contributions, and other markers that help you estimate an individual’s financial situation.
  • Philanthropic indicators allow you to assess a supporter’s potential warmth towards your organization. This includes their philanthropic history and general background information.

As we see in this graphic from our DonorSearch explainer on affinity to give, these indicators come together to form a recipe for a perfect donor: high giving propensity, giving capacity, and giving affinity.

4 ways to make the most out of your donor data

In simple terms, you need to determine whether a prospect is philanthropically inclined, whether they have the financial ability to make a gift, and whether they care about your unique cause. If a prospect scores high in all three of these areas, they’re likely to be a great candidate to approach as a major donor.

With this information, your fundraising team will be better equipped to start and develop relationships, estimate ask amounts, and create engagement strategies to engage these major donors.

So, how do you collect prospect research data?

Some nonprofits choose to create an in-house research team (or designate a single staff member) that combs through public records, social media, and other data available online. This DIY approach can work well if your nonprofit is just starting out or has a tight budget, but it can be difficult to scale up. If you choose to go this route, there are many online resources and training courses available to teach you the basics.

Alternatively, you can use a prospect research screening company, like DonorSearch, to streamline the process. With a screening service, you’ll have access to a much more comprehensive database than you could find on your own. If you have a large amount of donor data to screen or anticipate growing your organization quickly, this solution can save a lot of valuable time.

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

2. Create More Effective and Personalized Communications

Another powerful way to use your donor data is to incorporate it into your nonprofit’s email outreach. With data, you can better address individuals or groups of supporters in a targeted and relevant way.

To put this into context, consider the following scenarios for an end-of-year fundraising campaign email:

  • The email is addressed to “Dear Friend,” and includes a phrase like “Whether you donated, volunteered, or attended an event this year…”

  • The email is addressed to your first name and references the amount of the most recent gift you made and the last event you attended.

Which of these would you rather receive? We’re guessing the second one. In the first case, it’s clear the nonprofit has little knowledge of who will be reading the email. It’s not specific to an individual or even to a particular type of engagement! In contrast, the recipient of the second email has been clearly identified. The supporter reading it will feel seen and appreciated. 

This second email (and others like it) can be accomplished by using your donor data to implement segmentation and personalization in your email marketing.

  • Segmentation. This practice involves splitting supporters into groups based on certain criteria, such as demographics, engagement type, or giving level. For example, you probably want to address your major donors differently from your first-time donors, or send separate thank-yous to volunteers and donors.

  • Personalization. This refers to including personal data within the subject line, greeting, or body of the email. It’s estimated that addressing the recipient by name in the subject line can lead to a 50% higher email open rate, so this practice can make a big impact! However, you can also go beyond the name to include other data you have on file. For instance, a line like “Your recent donation of $50 provided needed vaccinations for a dog in our shelter” communicates gratitude for the donation and conveys the specific impact it made. By referencing a supporter’s recent engagement, donation, or event attendance, you show that your nonprofit recognizes and appreciates their individual contributions.  

While these strategies are effective, dividing donors into groups by hand or manually entering personal data into email after email would be tedious and inefficient. Luckily, automation tools make these processes easier and faster for fundraising professionals.

WildApricot email editor

For example, WildApricot’s email builder allows you to incorporate these practices into your donor communications. In this system, you can send targeted emails based on any criteria you choose. You can also incorporate personal data within the content by using email macros, a feature similar to merge fields. 

3. Encourage Supporters to Get Involved in New Ways 

A deeper understanding of your donors can help them get connected to your organization in ways that go beyond the donation. 

Right now, some supporters may not be in a financial place to give as generously due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. For example, if you notice that a supporter has paused a recurring donation but continues to interact with your organization on social media, you know they still care about your cause!

Non-monetary opportunities for engagement can still further your mission and strengthen your relationships with supporters.


Consider the following options for encouraging involvement without making a donation:


  • Promote volunteer opportunities, including virtual ones. Analyze your records to specifically target former volunteers and invite them to participate again. If possible, promote fully virtual volunteer opportunities or implement social distancing measures to make in-person activities more feasible. For example, the Willamalane Parks and Recreation District encouraged previous volunteers to serve remotely through mask sewing, translating documents, and performing administrative tasks.

virtual volunteer opportunities 

  • Generate support for advocacy campaigns. In an advocacy campaign, you will mobilize your supporters to spread awareness of your mission or promote a political initiative that will impact your work. Email and social media make it simple to conduct a digital advocacy campaign that engages supporters remotely. For instance, these strategies worked well for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, which encouraged supporters to contact corporations and the government to prevent the sale of tobacco.

 campaign for tobacco free kids 

As with any engagement activity, make sure you have a record of each supporter’s participation in these initiatives. This information will help you identify your most local and dedicated supporters for future fundraising asks.


Read More: 6 Simple Ways to Ease Into Advocacy as a Nonprofit


4. Plan and Execute Virtual Events to Engage Supporters

Analyzing your supporter data can help your nonprofit plan and execute more effective virtual events.


With any kind of event, you want to create an experience that will engage and delight your supporters. Whether the goal of your event is fundraising or stewardship, a positive and memorable experience will help you be more successful. One way to help ensure this experience meets the expectations of your supporters is to consider their needs from the start.


First, consider what type of virtual event would be most appropriate and entertaining for your audience. If you know you have a lot of art lovers, a virtual painting class could be a great fit!


As another example, the Zoo Miami Foundation hosted an online event that included educational content about the zoo’s animals and conservation programs.  If you aren’t able to pinpoint a specific interest area, events like virtual auctions and galas work well for a wide variety of supporters. 


You’ll also want to think about your supporters when determining the date and time of your event. For instance, if you know your potential attendees are spread out across the country, take time zones into account.


Once you’ve settled on the basic parameters for your event, continue to keep your planning donor-centric. If you work in a development office at a small liberal arts college, you might plan a virtual silent auction for your alumni giving event. As you procure your auction items,  consider the interests and potential purchasing power of your attendees. A big-ticket item like a luxurious beach vacation could be a perfect fit for some groups but feel out-of-reach for others. 


By tailoring your entire virtual event around your supporters, you’ll be more likely to facilitate an interactive, rewarding, and profitable experience for all. 


Your nonprofit depends on the generosity and dedication of your supporters to be able to fulfill your mission. Therefore, it’s critical that you work to collect and leverage useful information about your supporters. These donor data strategies will help you to better understand, communicate with, and engage your audience. Best of luck!


Sarah TedescoSarah Tedesco is the Executive Vice President of DonorSearch, a prospect research and wealth screening company that focuses on proven philanthropy. Sarah is responsible for managing the production and customer support department concerning client contract fulfillment, increasing retention rate and customer satisfaction. She collaborates with other team members on a variety of issues including sales, marketing and product development ideas.

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