Does your data tell you how to communicate with donors?

Does your data tell you how to communicate with donors?

A local food bank has been using a custom contact management database built in Microsoft Access. It supports 15,000 or so contacts, and it suits their purposes just fine. Reviewing their data structure recently, we noted that they were tracking the following communication data about their donors: home address, work address, one or more email addresses, phone, mobile phone, work phone.

Mapping data to business, we asked about their communications plan. It looked something like this:
• Two direct mail appeals annually
• Quarterly e-newsletters via Constant Contact
• Ad hoc mailings about community issues … maybe two or three per year
• Blog posts, not consistently
• Facebook posts once or twice a month
• They are thinking about a text messaging campaign

So then we asked: does your data tell you how to communicate with donors … how many contacts do you reach through each medium?

There was a puzzled look. A bit of thinking. Then: “Everybody gets contacted with every communication, so long as we have their address or email or whatever.”

How about an example close to home

A co-worker and I figured out that between the two of us and Third Sector Labs, we had three mailing addresses, 12 email addresses, three business phone numbers and two home number, three LinkedIn accounts, two Facebooks accounts, two Twitters, two Tumblrs … you get the idea. If you are a charity with all of this information – and you might be! – and you contact us using many/most of these communication channels, odds are we are going to get irritated and tune you out.

Contact Methods

Why? Are we bad guys? I hope not. Like so many people today, we are busy. When we give of our time, we want our time to be respected. For all you parents out there, think about the number of times we tell our kids “stop repeating yourself” or “I heard you the first time.” People don’t want to bombarded with the same information over and over.

Let’s put it another way. You’ve got that first gift from a new donor. What’s your donor retention rate look like? Could it be low because you aren’t communicating with donors the way they want to be reached?

Back to the client

In the course of managing their communications, it had not occurred to our client to ask their donors and contacts how they wanted to be reached. This is not unusual. We live at a time where so many of us feel overwhelmed by technology, especially communications technology. Heck, companies like HootSuite and TweetDeck make money aggregating social media accounts for individuals and businesses who feel like they have to connected everywhere but don’t have time to manage it all.

The good news, by the way, is that you don’t have to be everywhere. But you do need to be where your donors are, and just as importantly, you need to know how to communicate with them.

Lessons learned

Track ItLesson 1 – Track It. Most CRMs carry fields that let you identify the primary means of communication for a donor. Use those fields. In the case of a custom contact management system, you can add the fields you need … which is what our client did. And how did they figure out who gets a mailer, who gets an enewsletter, who wants to just follow along on Facebook, and who actually wants them all? It was a brilliant strategy, really … they asked … in a simple survey.

Lesson 2 – Save Money. The money spent on that survey was saved many times over by not wasting money on unread mail.

Lesson 3 – Improve Donor Relations. By showing donors that you are listening to them, by not wasting their time with duplicative communications, you will gain their appreciation and respect as a well-run organization.

Lesson 4 – Improve Your Communications Plan. Now you are a data analyst! By mapping your donors against the way(s) they want to be reached, a clearer picture emerges about how your organization needs to be using the many communications channels available to us. Don’t repeat everything to everyone on every channel. Get smart about this. Patterns will emerge that allow you to tailor your message in a direct mail piece to one donor demographic, while a different message is used to reach another demographic via blogging or Facebook.

Does your data tell you how to communicate with donors?

About Doug Rekenthaler

Doug has spent more than 20 years delivering a wide variety of support to nonprofit organizations. He was instrumental in establishing the American Red Cross’s Web services in the late-1990s, later moving on to deliver consulting and technology services to numerous nonprofits including UNICEF, National Geographic, World Wildlife Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and dozens more.

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