Donor data migration Q&A with Jay Love and Gary Carr

Donor data migration Q&A with Jay Love and Gary Carr

Third Sector Labs recently co-hosted a donor data migration webinar with Jay Love, the CEO of Bloomerang. The topic – “Nonprofit data migration: Why you can’t take it all with you” – generated a lot of interest. We had also blogged earlier on the topic. Jay 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 donor data migration question could be answered, and so we wanted to share more of the Q&A here. If you have questions about your donor data, CRM, or data migration needs, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Donor data migration: you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers

QUESTION: What are the most common custom fields added to the CRM platform? Gary Carr

GARY: This depends on how robust your CRM is. A good CRM should need very few if any custom fields. You should only need to set up custom codes (ex. appeal codes) that may not be in the default configuration options. In older CRMs (donor databases, really), the purpose of the database was contact management for mailers, so custom fields would include things like relationships, alma mater, volunteer/board status.

Jay Love

JAY: We find for most nonprofits the custom fields revolve these areas: 1.  Specifics with the solicitation process 2.  Event details kept 3.  Grant related fields 4.  Volunteer related fields Most everything else is covered via your transactions.  Like any retail store figure out what should and should not be on the shelves.  Extra items that do not turn mean less in sales revenue stores, extra items for NPO’s usually mean less effective fundraising and lower dollars raised.

QUESTION: I’ve an inherited a database where they also put DO NOT MAIL in the address line, how do I change that? Gary Carr

GARY: The use of “DO NOT MAIL” suggests either an old CRM or an old way of doing things. Any newer CRM will have a “do not mail” code that can be checked – use it, and clean out the old “DO NOT MAIL” text. If you have an older perhaps custom built donor database (perhaps an Access db), you will need to add a field that codes to the address field, and use that.

Jay Love


JAY: Ditto

How many categories of “data” can be managed????  Is this an attempt to sell systems or promote knowledge?

Jay Love

JAY: Honestly, as few as possible.  Figure out what you truly used in the last 12 months and throw out the rest . . .


QUESTION: Did I understand that one category of records you DO migrate are requests to be removed from mailing lists, etc?

Gary Carr GARY: Yes … but only if there is another purpose for keeping the donor in the database. If the only purpose is for contact mailing, and they want to be removed, you don’t keep the record with the “remove” code, you just remove the record. This keeps the database cleaner and focused forward.


Jay Love

JAY: So true, removing the record is the safest way



QUESTION: Can you help sort out bad addresses and emails.  I have so much bad data.

Gary Carr GARY: Third Sector Labs can run a free Data Quality Assessment (up to 25,000 records) if you send us a data file. From there we can assess the extent of your problem. If you have a lot of bad data, then it becomes very cumbersome and time consuming to use the CRM de-duping tools to clean record by record. You need a data management service to export your data into a separate data mart, where the data can be analyzed and cleaned properly, then re-imported into your CRM.

Jay LoveJAY: If you are set with your current CRM or database use Gary’s team to help you.  If you are not happy, perhaps the migration to a new database will be just the ticket!



QUESTION: Can you explain why we should not put ‘BAD address’ in the address line?

Gary Carr

GARY: I assume “DO NOT MAIL”, “BAD” is a code or qualifier that is applied to an address field, when it should be done by using a separate field in the database. Then you can properly manage and sort the data. For example, you want to send out a piece of direct mail. If you use the practice of typing messages into the address field (like “BAD”), then you have to run your export, sort on that field, look for all instances of “BAD”, delete them, then prepare your mail merge. If you use codes properly, then you would only export clean usable data and save time and effort while avoiding simple mistakes. Perhaps more importantly, though, ask yourself why you are typing “BAD” into an address field. If the address is in fact unusable, it should not be in the database. If it is an old address where the donor no longer lives, but you keep it for reference, then that address should be stored in a secondary address field with the appropriate code. Jay Love

JAY: Ditto



QUESTION: Do you delete donor records that have gifts? We have many inactive records from past donors that are either deceased or we have lost contact with but we don’t delete them because it is historical data.

Jay Love
JAY: You will never have to go back to a donor record beyond 3 years for nearly every charity I have worked with in the last 30 years.  Ask this question, in the last 3 years have you ever had to go back to any record that was more than 3 years ago with their last gift???


Gary Carr GARY: Your new CRM should be forward looking, not backward. If the record is inactive, then the only reason you would want it is for the history. So run the necessary reports on the old CRM, produce the history that you want in those reports. Also, consider keeping an Access db or MS Excel spreadsheet with that old, inactive historical data. You can go to it for reference. But unless there is another purpose for that inactive record, do not maintain inactive records in your CRM. If your inactive records represent “skip givers”, then perhaps you need to execute a separate appeal with a new/different message to those specific givers to see if you can re-engage them. If they don’t re-engage, move on.

QUESTION: For our donor database, we often keep old, outdated records because leadership believes we might be able to engage these lapsed donors, even though they haven’t

Gary Carr

GARY: Similar to the answer above, your CRM should be forward looking. If your inactive records represent “skip givers” or “lapsed givers”, then perhaps you need to execute a separate appeal with a new/different message to those specific givers to see if you can re-engage them. If they don’t re-engage, move on. Remember that we are dealing with human nature when we are managing a database. Any data you keep will attract interest, time, and energy from people in your organization. Do you want any time being spent on your poorest data? Or do you want your data to be clean, actionable, and forward looking?

Jay LoveJAY: Try 3 different appeals over 12-15 months then “LET EM GO”.  As Gary stated you must look forward and not waste precious mailing and marketing dollars on people who have shown they will not support you.  Tell management that is the case with every NPO.  The average NPO retains only 22-23% of first time donors.   If you do not obtain a second gift in the first 12 months after, it is never worthwhile to try for more than 2 years to obtain another gift.  Focus on upgrading the the current donors.  Most of them are testing you to see if they can find enough about your mission and your results to become a major donor.  I do this every year myself with 2-3 new charities.

QUESTION: What does CRM stand for?

Gary Carr

GARY: Consumer Relationship Management or Constituent Relationship Management. For help defining important donor data management terms, consider bookmarking our Donor Data Management Dictionary.

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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