Fundraising strategy, technology and data Q&A with Chris Goodman and Gary Carr

Fundraising strategy, technology and data Q&A with Chris Goodman and Gary Carr

Third Sector Labs recently co-hosted a fundraising strategy webinar with Chris Goodman, SVP of Strategy & Marketing for 2Dialog. The topic – “Drive Your Fundraising Success with Strategy, Smart Technology and Better Data” – focused on the importance of aligning fundraising strategy, technology and a data in order to maximize the efficiencies of all three. We had also blogged earlier on the topic vis-a-vis the changing fundraising paradigm we are experiencing across the third sector.

Chris and Gary Carr, CEO of Third Sector Labs, led a lively discussion, and both stayed as long as they could after the event to answer questions. Unfortunately, not every fundraising strategy, technology and data question could be answered, and so we wanted to share more of the Q&A here. If you have questions about your nonprofit systems, databases, CRM or data needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Fundraising strategy, technology and data: you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

We opened the event with a short audience poll about fundraising technology. The feedback was eye-opening about the struggles we are experiencing with nonprofit technology.

1 – Do you feel it is easier or more complicated to plan and execute a fundraising campaign today than it was 5 or 10 years ago?

  • Easier = 8%
  • More difficult = 92%

2 – How many different types of technology systems are you using today (CRM, email, online, social, payment, events, etc.)?

  • 1-2 = 0%
  • 3-5 = 47%
  • 6+ = 53%

3 – Which of the following would describe your organization’s investment of time in deploying multichannel fundraising campaigns:

  • Not enough time = 80%
  • About the right amount = 13%
  • Too much time = 0%
  • Not sure = 7%

And from the Q&A at the end of the event …

QUESTION: Isn’t successful fundraising ultimately connected to the quality of the organization’s work? That’s the content component (the weak link) that you talked about earlier, correct?

CHRIS: Yes. A compelling cause and trustworthy organization are at the root of successful fundraising. You mission is at the core of your donor relationships – it’s what inspires them and why they give. Being prudent with donors is also important … connecting back to the donor about how their contribution is making a difference will enhance those relationships. We need to be cognizant of what the community wants to hear from us. Just as we’ve talked about how your fundraising strategy should drive your technology and data, it should likewise be in sync with your creative content.

Gary Carr
GARY: Ditto. But as we mentioned, the fundraising paradigm is shifting. We live in a multi-media world, and there is a lot of competition for people’s attention – a lot of ‘noise’. Fundraising campaigns used to be characterized by a single message to all prospective donors. Today, you need to understand how your prospective donors want to be reached, and what specific issue or message resonates with them best. Technology and data enable us to do that, so that we no longer treat all donors the same, and we show our constituents that we are responsive to their needs as donors.

QUESTION: At our organization, we are re-evaluating our fundraising technology needs, but nobody is talking about strategy or data. I think you are saying that’s a mistake. Can you talk a bit about why these three need to be evaluated together?

CHRIS: Yes, we would argue that your fundraising technology discussions should be driven by clearly defined strategic goals and should involve a clear understanding of your data strategy. Do you plans involve segmenting of constituents into different groups and personalizing outreach; do you plan to test campaign variables; will you be using reference codes to track where donations are coming from (Direct mail, Email, Social, etc). The effectiveness of strategy, technology and data working together can mean the difference between a good program and a great program. We’ve seen nonprofits who do this–better synchronize their strategy, technology and data–lift results by 65% in relatively short periods of time.

Gary Carr
GARY: I agree with Chris – the alignment of strategy, tech and data is just critical. Jumping to the technology evaluation without first re-evaluating strategy is a mistake. Your fundraising strategy should tell you what type and how much technology you need.


QUESTION: We are a small organization …our revenue is under $2M per year. We’ve never segmented donors or written different messages for different donors. How does a small organization afford to do that?

Gary Carr
GARY: One step at a time. Focus on your next campaign or appeal. Run some basic data analysis on your donor database, and create a couple of message alternatives that would appeal to your donor segments. Study your results.

CHRIS: Segmentation doesn’t have to be complicated. And the only reason to segment is to improve program performance and the relationship with a donor/advocate/participant. As in everything, test, test test. Some good places to start include looking at ways donors naturally cluster: around attitudes, behavior, connection to your cause and profiles. You can start with relatively simple donor segmentations and thinking about how you can approach your donors a little differently—understand how to engage your donors in the way in which they want to be engaged. As an example, you may want to segment and communicate differently than your national headquarters does to specific constituents, if you operate in a chapter-type environment.

QUESTION: Is there a minimum size staff you recommend an organization should have in order to be able to execute on all of this?

CHRIS: A staff size of 1 is as good a place as any to start. But be realistic with yourself and your leadership. Ask yourself some good, deep questions. Are there things you are doing today that are not creating significant value? Or, if you (your organization) could double the net income available for you cause, is this important (meaning would this enable you to feed twice as many kids or help X% more people etc.)? If so, what would you be willing to invest (not just new funds but also possibly choosing to stop something you currently spend time/money on) to make this happen? Could you afford a additional part-time or full time person to help? Could you justify hiring an agency to assist? There are things you can do today, and there are other things you may be able to do tomorrow.

QUESTION: Do you recommend a specific donor management software?

Gary Carr
GARY: There are many good donor management systems. I tend to favor online or SaaS applications. Newer systems tend to be more flexible. And they may benefit from more years of industry “lessons learned”. Larger organizations, however, may need the value of a more enterprise-wide technology, and those tend to be more established brands. I realize that transitioning to a new system is not easy, and on top of that, there are a lot of do’s and don’t’s with data migration when it comes to donor management software. If we can help with this decision process, let us know.

CHRIS: I agree. It’s not about there being a ‘best’ system … rather it’s about which system is ‘best for your organization.’


QUESTION: I understand the point about how important data cleaning is, but you also talk about how fundraising success depends on better data, not just more data. How do we get “better data”?

Gary Carr
GARY: Closing the “gap” between what you have and what you need starts with a data analysis … you need to identify what you are missing, so that you will be able to determine what “better data” means to your organization. Many nonprofits rely on big data providers to buy or rent data sets, hoping to fill in the gaps. That can work, but I am a bigger fan of enriching your data locally by improving data capture in every form of outreach and communication you have. And rule number one: if you want to know more about your constituents, ask them … engage them in a “conversation” about your organization and mission. Show that you care about their needs as a donor, and you will be able to capture much better data.

CHRIS: There are a lot of techniques and best practices for improving data capture … and learning more about our constituents. I’d love to get into much more detail here, but Gary’s comments are a good summary. Let me know if we can help.


QUESTION: How long should we keep “old” records of people who haven’t given in a while? We hang onto records hoping to re-engage lapsed donors.

Gary Carr
GARY: If a donor hasn’t given in three years, that person is likely not to give again. You may want to retain these records for reporting purposes, and put them into a secondary database, but you should not keep your primary donor or marketing database full of stale or bad records. One thing you can do, however, if you aren’t sure about those lapsed donors, is to segment them into a different appeal. Develop messaging specifically for them – to our earlier question, this is a great example of the value of segmenting. Give them one more chance to re-engage before separating them from your database.



About Gary Carr

Gary is the founder and president of Third Sector Labs. With more than 20 years of experience delivering software and data solutions to a wide variety of clients, Gary turned his attention to the overwhelming problem of data. Third Sector Labs is committed to making sense of data for the nonprofit industry.

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