Using databases in advancement
The database is an essential investment for any development office because it:
- Is the source of information and historical record for prospects and donors, as well as for fundraising and other development activities
- Enables development offices to handle huge volumes of information efficiently
- Helps offices tailor their approaches to individuals
- Assists with gift processing and stewardship
- Maintains focus and momentum in the fundraising cycle – identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship
- Supports event management
- Makes monitoring and reporting easier
- Assists annual fundraising planning
Maintaining the database
Keeping your data clean and up-to-date is a never-ending task.
You may have a new database to populate with data from a variety of sources (e.g., student records, alumni clubs, the vice-chancellor’s Christmas card list, etc.) or an old system that needs improvement.
You now need to take a systematic approach to standardising this data and making sure it is accurate (so you that do not waste money sending mail to addresses that are out of date, researching a prospect that may be deceased, etc.).
You can pay a third party or do it ‘in-house’. Do not underestimate the amount of work involved in ‘data entry’, however. This is a mundane but essential aspect to maintaining a successful database.
You need to devise a data management strategy, taking a long-term realistic view of what might be achievable with the resources you have available. Also, you might want to segment your database so you can prioritise work on areas that will be most useful to your overall development strategy (e.g., improve the data for alumni aged over 55 if you want to run a legacies campaign, or obtain accurate telephone numbers if you are planning a telephone campaign).
You only get out what you put in
Databases are only as good as the data they contain.
Everyone in the development team needs to understand how to input data and to develop the discipline of updating records every time they have contact with a prospect or donor. You also need to devise a process for getting data from others in the institution (e.g., through contact reports, integrating other systems) and from prospects/donors (e.g., capturing telephone numbers as more people are going mobile and numbers are not traceable).
Unless this is done, the personal records will be inaccurate and the institution will appear unprofessional and make mistakes in prospect management. Up-to-date records also help when there is staff transition.
The more detailed the information entered, the more useful it will be. Generating guest lists will be easy, as you can ask the database to provide you with a relevant list (e.g., all alumni aged between 30 and 35 who live within an hour of the capital city? and are interested in art). Information like this can only be pulled together if it is entered in the first place and maintained throughout the year.
The podcast featured Amil Mohanan (Loughborough University, UK), Eric Saulo (Director of Advancement and External Relations, Strathmore University, Kenya), Ronica Ramsout (Head of Research and Information Systems, University of Cape Town, ZA), Josiah Mavundla (Deputy Director of Development and Fundraising, University of the Witwatersrand, ZA).