The importance of a database for your non-profit

For many, a database (DB) is only a tool to keep track of donation history and to create tax receipts. Although it is the best donation and tax receipt registry you can have (it is well appreciated by the CRA), a DB is so much more than that.

Not only will a good DB allow you to keep useful information about your donors, it will also keep track of all your business contacts (volunteers, board members, suppliers, employees, etc). You would be amazed to see how many of your existing contacts are active or potential donors.

What can you expect from a database?

In general

Share your contacts: business cards, canvassers, donors, volunteers, suppliers, postal codes, emails, phone numbers, and relevant information, sent mail, donations and communications.

Easily identify your lists: Volunteers, board members, selected donors and people to inform concerning only certain subjects.

Send your outgoing messages faster: direct mail or emails, personalized letters, labels or envelopes.

Customer Relationship Management

Keep track of the follow ups: Who did you talk to? When, how and why? Is there a follow up to be done? What are the next steps? Quickly see the follow up status (yours and your colleagues’).

Keep and organize important documents linked to people and follow ups: Word, Excel or PowerPoint files, emails and pictures.

Analytics, statistics and prospecting

Donations and fundraisers: What is your donation income for 2013? From what sources? What is your annual fundraising event’s progression since you started doing them? Who are the donors that have contributed up to 10 000$ as of 2013?

Contacts and relationships: Who knows who? Who is the best person to reach out to a particular potential donor? Who has the strongest connection?

Traps to avoid

A homemade database

If you are using a homemade DB, be mindful that your system should be able to keep up with current technologies. Most of the homemade DBs are developed by a team member or a volunteer. This person is usually the only one knowledgeable enough about the system to do upgrades or modifications. You’ll be in trouble if they are not be available when you need them most. A healthy software needs to be maintained continuously.

When you choose an established commercial software, you are guaranteed it will keep evolving since it doesn’t rely on one person’s ability, but on a whole team’s (and the company providing the service has to stay on top to remain competitive). There is no guarantee the company making or distributing the software won’t go bankrupt which is why it is just as important to do a solid background check on the company before buying their software.

A system you can’t customize

Every organization has special needs and different kinds of data to process in their DB. For instance, a foundation helping people with vision troubles could need to document the names and breed of guide dogs.

Over time, your organization may grow and your management techniques evolve. You need to be able to add different features addressing your new needs.

Plan ahead for the best long term solution

Be careful not to make hasty decisions about your DB. You need to ask yourself the right questions in order to select the best options for both your short term and long term needs. For example, if you need to add a field in the donation’s file to document the origin of the donation (whether it’s from an individual or a corporation), you might not be documenting it in the right place. In this particular example, this information should be in the client’s file rather than in the donation file. Why? Because this information is not relevant to the donation. It is relevant to the donor (whether he’s an individual or a corporation).

Don’t hesitate to contact your supplier for guidance and tips. The support team should prove to be helpful and insightful.

Impossible requests

Anything is possible; as long as it is well documented. For example, you can only create a list of donations made by doctors if the data was entered accordingly. If you did not specify the job description of the donor, the results you seek will not be found.

Cheating the system

One of the classic examples would be  to provide a tax receipt to the president of a company for a donation that was made by company cheque. Doing this has two consequences:

a)   It is illegal according to the CRA, and

b)   You are cheating your own statistics

Watch out for this, even if it has become a very rare practice…


Bottom line

It’s a hassle managing multiple sources of data and lists. You owe it to your organization – and especially to your donors – to be a lean, mean, fundraising machine!

By using your database properly, all of your contacts are gathered at the same place. Just imagine a centralized directory that would hold all your contacts while being updatable and accessible by all your team members on a daily basis (and without being captured twice).

Save yourself time, money and frustration by setting up a solid database that will not only help improve your workflow but help your fundraising and marketing team better target specific audiences and build new leads. It’s a smart investment that will pay out without a doubt.

Written by guest contributor, Pierre Brochu, President at Logylis Inc.