Act On What Your Database Already Knows

Nick Ellinger April 13, 2016 Nonprofits

In the past, we’ve talked about the importance of getting to one true database. But why? Perhaps to know your donors better? But knowledge is useless without the willingness and the ability to act on it.

You need to be able to take data, turn it into information, and use that information in your program. Having one coherent database gives you a real picture of the media that people use (and don’t use), how often they really give, and for how long they’ve been giving.

These data, along with some database tactics, can lead to important results.


Reacquiring lapsed donors

The first and most important part of a lapsed reactivation campaign is actually knowing when someone has lapsed. When you have a database that is siloed by channel, that person who last gave by mail three years ago looks like a deeply lapsed donor. When you have a full view of that donor, you realize they could be someone who has become a sustaining donor, online donor, major donor prospect, walker, gala attendee, or something else. Treating a valuable donor as if they are a lapsed donor in the mail could become a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than a solid reactivation plan.

Once you know who you are trying to reach, you can strategize how to bring them back. Your database can tell you what made that lapsed donor responsive. The most likely message(s) for someone to find compelling are the ones that they’ve found compelling in the past. Using your database intelligently (e.g., to include the people who have responded in the past three years to a message, regardless of what RFM would say to do) can bring people back into the fold.

You can also customize messaging to their lapsed status. Your goal is not to act like they have disappointed you in some way; rather, you should be acting as the donor is someone you value greatly and with whom you want to continue your relationship. One tactic for this is to acknowledge the anniversary of their last gift. That may happen to be their 2nd or 3rd anniversary; either way, it is an opportunity for you to tell the donor what their gift helped to do in the intervening year or years.


Honoring loyalty

Speaking of anniversaries, having an accurate date at which someone began their support of your organization gives you the opportunity to thank them for their support every anniversary. Even if you want to start with the big ones – 10th, 15th, and 20th-anniversary donors, these strong acknowledgments can cement relations for years more of support. (Plus, it’s also the right thing to do.)

Fireworks-FinalThere’s also an underrated aspect of loyalty. Frequently, when direct marketers do RFM analysis, recency and monetary value get very nuanced segments, but the frequency is broken down into a dichotomy between single- and multi-donors. As a result, the person who has made 100 gifts is treated the same as the person who gave twice.

This is not only wrong; it’s unwise. Donors under $10 (or $5 or $15, depending on the organization) get the least frequent and least valuable communications. What if, however, a person makes a donation to every third or fourth communication? This is someone who, as long as they don’t show fatigue, should get more communications – and thank yous – than less. Segmenting your database for people who give three or more times per year can help you avoid these mistakes.


Improving acquisition

Your database holds the key to:

  • Who should you acquire? We love all donors and it’s because of this love that we have to make the tough decision not to use their money to try to acquire donors below a certain gift level. Look at the long-term performance of your donors by acquisition gift amount level and you will likely find that donors below a certain point (and this point varies by organization) don’t pay for themselves. This means you need to change your retention strategy either to cut costs or elevate these donors’ values. Or it means you need to change your acquisition strategy to not acquire these donors. Or both.
  • Which outside lists work best for you? This can’t be done just by looking at cost-to-acquire-a-donor after the campaign wraps. Looking back years later will help you determine which lists actually created value for your organization. Sometimes a list that looked like it provided poor returns initially turned up some longer-term gems.
  • What tactics work the best to acquire and convert multichannel donors? Wondering whether to run an online petition campaign or a donation campaign on your home page? To do that, you have to be able to find the multichannel value of those advocates – you may find that bringing in new, interested, passionate supporters is well worth forgoing a donation ask.


So know and treat your database well. Within it lie the keys to knowledge, action, and growth.



Read Nick’s daily blog on direct marketing.