Sept/Oct 2006

An Organized Donor Database: The Key to Successful Integrated Marketing

by Keith Heller, Principal, Heller Consulting

Fundraising continues to grow more sophisticated as more tools and methods become available to organizations. With the advent of integrated marketing strategies and tools, fundraisers can coordinate traditional "offline" appeals with online communications and Web sites to create a more personalized experience for every prospect and donor. This is community-building at its best and, when effectively implemented, has great pay-offs for fundraising.

But, an integrated marketing program is only as effective as the constituent data supporting it. So, before organizations step forward to implement an integrated marketing program, they should take a step back. "Step 0" should be to ensure their online and offline databases are organized, clean and updated.

What is the promise of organized databases? There are two primary rewards:

  1. Easy-to-generate prospect lists that ensure you solicit the right people, in the right manner and with the right "ask" — whether online or offline.

  2. Straight-forward and accurate reporting that lets you assess the efficacy of your fundraising and marketing strategies, so you build on what works and abandon what doesn't.

What does an organized database look like?

Each important piece of constituent information should have a logical home — and only one home. "Logical home" means a field or table that is easily accessible by your database's query tools and reports. "Only one home" means people don't scatter this information all over the database.

But, what qualifies as "important information" in a fundraising database? There are essentially two types of critical data:

  1. Prospect Information — The accurate name and addresses (postal mail and email) for your prospects, a "record-type" value that tells you how the prospect is related to your organization, and "solicit codes" that indicate special contact instructions for a prospect.

  2. Gift Information — On each donation there should be separate codes that indicate: the specific source of a gift (often called an "appeal" code, e.g. October 2006 E-mailing), the broader fundraising strategy ("campaign" code, e.g. E-Mail Solicitations) and how the donor intended his or her donation be spent ("fund" or "designation" code, e.g. Unrestricted).

How do you decide on the proper home for this information?

Start with the finish line. The goal of storing information is to get it back out easily.

First, make a list of the prospect groups you need to conduct your fundraising. What is the most important information you'll use to group your prospects? This information should be stored in a field that is easy to access with your database's query tools.

Second, determine the reports you'll analyze to assess whether your fundraising initiatives have been successful. What line items do you want to see? Usually, this includes fields such as prospect record type or gift source appeal. Look at the reports that are included in your fundraising software and what fields they draw on. If you store data in the fields your system uses to generate reports, it will be far easier to get your reports and you can have greater trust in their accuracy.

As you make decisions about where to store information in each system, you'll need to look at how those fields will relate to each other when the two systems are integrated. Evaluating this at the outset will smooth the exchange of data and let you more fully realize the value of each system and their combined power.

Innovative solutions for nonprofit integrated marketing

For optimal integrated marketing results, organizations should apply database management best practices to both their offline and online fundraising systems, and then ensure the two systems' databases are synchronized. This is crucial for organizations looking to capitalize on the promise of integrated marketing.

Recognizing the importance of clean online and offline databases that "talk to each other," Heller Consulting and Convio now offer two database optimization choices for nonprofit organizations ready to take full advantage of integrated marketing techniques:

  1. Heller Consulting and Convio have teamed up to develop the Convio DataSync Connector. Organizations that use Blackbaud's The Raiser's Edge® and Convio can use the Convio DataSync Connector for a wide range of real-time data integration. This partnership provides nonprofits with unprecedented capabilities around data management and real-time data integration.

  2. Heller Consulting also offers database optimization services that help get nonprofit databases into shape before integrating them.

For more information about these services, see the Convio Connection article,"Convio Offers Nonprofits Real-Time Data Integration with Blackbaud's The Raiser's Edge®."

Keith Heller is Principal of Heller Consulting, a sixteen-person firm that helps nonprofits streamline their development operations and maximize their use of fundraising technology, particularly Blackbaud® Inc.’s Raiser’s Edge® fundraising software. With offices in San Francisco and Chicago, they’ve helped over 350 nonprofits nationwide in the last 10 years.


An Organized Donor Database: The Key to Successful Integrated Marketing | Convio