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As you move into the end of the year and prepare for the new year, here are four quick ways to improve your nonprofit database.

Your donor base is constantly in motion. Like raking leaves in the fall, there is guaranteed to be more to tidy the day after you make your piles and clear your lawn. Your donors may change addresses, or you may need to shift the focus to follow up after making a big ask or to cultivation after receiving a gift. Over time, some donors will pass away. There is a lot to keep track of, but your donor communications are only as effective as the accuracy of the data.

To keep from getting overwhelmed, it can help to make a strategic seasonal effort to update your database. Again, like raking leaves, the season for tidying your database is probably in the fall—as you prepare for your end-of-year fundraising efforts. Make this a habit, something you anticipate and prepare as summer winds down and the cool weather settles in.

Whether your data has been dormant for the past few years or you already make a point to do a major cleanup annually, here are a few small projects to embark on to easily update your database. Prioritizing one or all of them will greatly enhance the accuracy of your records.

1. If you have some upcoming major mailings—update donor addresses.

Everyone has heard of the National Change of Address (NCOA) database available from the US Postal Service, but newer, more accurate tools are now available. Data processing firms have compiled their own databases, pulling from addresses used by credit card and utility companies instead.

Here's how you do it: simply extract a list of donors with their addresses. Be sure to include a unique record ID so you can easily update your database (and avoid a major headache) once you get the results. Then, upload the file to a vendor’s website. They’ll do the processing for you, and it usually takes less than a day.

If your direct-mail vendor does this (or NCOA) as part of a mailing, don't forget to ask for the results so you can update your database.

2. If you are strengthening your digital communications (which you should be)—get donor emails.

Check how many of your donors have both email addresses and mailing addresses. For those who have one and not the other, run a data append. Export the donors with only one of the two pieces of information. Send the file to a data processor. The good news is for data appends like this, where you are only searching for one specific piece of new information, you only have to pay for the matches. The processor will tell you how many matches there are before charging you.

3. If you have a large donor pool and need to decide who to prioritize, run a wealth screen or do an RFM analysis.

Several large vendors specialize in wealth screens. They provide new insights into your donors, including their estimated capacity and other types of charitable giving. "RFM modeling" is something you can try on your own, a method of ordering your donors into different percentiles of (R) how Recently they’ve given, (F) how Frequently they give, and (M) how Much they give. Store the final RFM score in your database and see which donors score the highest.

4. If you want to start sending your donors birthday cards—get their birthdates.

Your major data processing firms should offer this, too, and if you are trying to strengthen your donor engagement, birthdays are a great opportunity. Sending birthday cards to lapsed donors is an excellent—and friendly!—tactic to reactivate them. Or anytime you make an effort to ramp up your planned-giving program, having birth dates will enable targeted and more effective outreach. Unlike other pieces of data, this one will never change. Is this the year to track it down?

Many data appending vendors will also offer phone number appends and flag for deceased individuals, in addition to the above services. You may even be able to get a better deal by bundling several append services together. Be sure to reach out to us if you have any follow-up questions about navigating these vendors and using these services!

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