You Don’t Have a Data Management Plan?

Rob Winters Blog, Events

Adcieo recently co-hosted a data management webinar with Gary Carr, CEO of Third Sector Labs. The topic – “Why don’t you have a data management plan?” – focusing on why you need, and how to create, a nonprofit data management plan.

The purpose of this post is to share the results of an interesting survey from the beginning of the event, as well as the great attendee follow-up Q&A.

We opened with a short audience survey about nonprofit data management. Based on our work in the field, the feedback was not unexpected.

1 – Does your organization have a data management plan?

Yes = 10%
No = 90%

2 – When was the last time your organization cleaned your donor data?

Within the past 3 months = 30%
Within the past 6 months = 30%
Not sure = 40%

3 – Is someone in your organization responsible for data quality?

Yes = 33%
No = 67%


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

QUESTION: You talked about using social media logins, like Facebook, to help capture more information about donors and prospects. What tools do you recommend?

Debbie SnyderDEBBIE: Yes. We definitely recommend using social media logins to your website as a convenience option for your constituents. Many people like using them. There are a number of options. The most popular is Facebook.

GARY: Ditto. Good recommendations.

QUESTION: When you gave an example of a data management plan, you started from a fundraising plan. Would you explain a bit more about how these two are related?

Gary CarrGARY: A good fundraising plan consists of strategies and tactics to be executed in order to achieve your fundraising goals. I’m stating the obvious, right? We need the right technology and high quality data to support those strategies and initiatives. So, a good data management plan starts from the fundraising strategy. For example, one initiative might be to re-engage lapsed donors, using three outbound communications over a three month period, one per month. You need a new, targeted message to reach former donors who have not been responding to recent solicitations. That targeted message might include updated data about your newest service programs in the community. And you need updated contact information. It’s not that complicated to put together a data management plan once you start to break it down, and once you know where to start.

DEBBIE: I definitely agree with Gary – the alignment of strategy, tech and data is just critical. On a related point, the same approach is true when it comes to your nonprofit technology. We were once asked to evaluate new technology options for a client. We started the engagement by asking for their fundraising and communications plans – they were a bit caught off guard at first. But we explained that we can’t evaluate tech options like a new CRM without first knowing what they needed to accomplish with the technology.

QUESTION: NTEN just held an online fundraising benchmark webinar, where they talked about email open rates being low, and organizations raising something like $17 for every 1000 emails sent. Would a data management plan like you suggest really improve those kinds of metrics?

Gary CarrGARY: The short answer is yes – the higher the quality of your data, the more successful any fundraising effort or appeal will be. I think I attended that same webinar, by the way, so I’m posting a link here to download a copy of the materials. One important point that may be overlooked when looked at big data surveys is the purpose behind the online outreach that is being measured. A good fundraising strategy will include multiple initiatives, each with its own communications, messaging, schedules … and success rates. For example, I would expect lower email open rates for a donor acquisition campaign that is targeting a high percentage of first time contacts (e.g. working from a list serve), while I would expect higher open rates for a lapsed donor campaign or an effort to lift giving amounts for existing donors because your nonprofit already has a relationship with the targeted constituents.

DEBBIE: From our experience, industry benchmarking can be tricky. It’s great to have industry metrics available as a guide, but you’ve got to know your organization, your donors, your prospects. Gary makes a good point about email open rates. The same thought process applies for many other data points. You need better data to drive fundraising success, and a data management plan will help you get there.

QUESTION: You made a point about separating data management schedules from fundraising and event schedules. We’ve never done that before at my nonprofit. How do I get leadership on board with this approach … it seemed like a big deal in your presentation?

Debbie SnyderDEBBIE: That’s a great question. It is a big deal. And it isn’t an easy shift in thinking to accept. We are all used to planning our events, for example, but we REACT to data. Why? Because we don’t understand data, or because it is time consuming, or boring … there are lots of reasons. But if we continue to be reactive with data – in this case donor data – we will never achieve the sort of success that we should. The first step in taking control of your data management processes and planning is to put data management on its own schedule … with its own budget I might add. Don’t clean, update, or enrich your data as a response to an upcoming mailer or an incoming problem. Plan those activities.

GARY: Agree completely. Data management plans should support the activities of the organization – financial reporting, outcome measuring, fundraising, communications. But that doesn’t mean that those activities should drive data management plans or schedules. Be proactive in your data management, not reactive.