3 Ways to Ruin Your Donor Database Before Entering Any Data

Steven Shattuck is a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub, and VP of Marketing at Bloomerang. As a HubSpot Certified inbound marketer, he is a contributor to Nonprofit Hub, National Council of Nonprofits, Ragan, Social Media Today, Search Engine Journal, The Build Network, HubSpot, Content Marketing Institute and Business2Community. Steven has spoken at national and local conferences, and is frequently interviewed by media outlets for his expertise in digital marketing.

Any fundraiser who has ever used a donor database knows what a nightmare it can be if their nonprofit’s donor data is messy, inconsistent, inaccessible or nonexistent.

But a donor database doesn’t just go bad on its own, and no system is immune from neglect or over-indulgence. In many cases, a lack of processes is the first step down the path towards a database that works against you instead of for you.

Here are three ways you can ruin your nonprofit’s donor database before you enter a single bit of data:

1) Not Knowing What’s Important to Collect and Track, and What Isn’t

Before you start to collect data, you have to decide what to collect.

Every organization is different. It’s important to choose what to collect based on what’s truly important to your nonprofit.

If you attempt to collect too much of the wrong kind of data, you risk alienating your donors while getting bogged down with things that don’t matter. If you collect too little data, you may miss out on valuable and actionable insights.

Here are some examples of information that you can collect about donors:


  • Age/Birthday
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • Household income
  • Interests
  • Occupation

Contact Info

  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Email address
  • Social media profiles

In addition to information about your donors, there’s no shortage of data points about their activity that you can track. Here are some examples:


  • Cost of acquisition
  • Pledges
  • Lifetime value
  • Cash/check vs. direct withdrawal
  • Gift amount
  • Frequency of giving
  • Patterns in giving
  • Number of years as a donor
  • Upgrades
  • Downgrades


  • Soft credits
  • Volunteer activity
  • Event attendance
  • Email open rates
  • Email clicks
  • Website visits
  • Direct mail response rate
  • Board memberships
  • Follower on social media

As opposed to donor data collection, the more you track about their behavior the better (in general). However, you should avoid paralysis by analysis.

2) Not Having Standard Procedures for Data Entry

Many donor databases get messy simply because there is no defined process for data entry.

Documenting and sticking to one universal process for data will ensure that all of your donor data is formatted consistently and easily accessible by all members of the fundraising team.

Assigning team member roles, establishing a standard naming convention for data (St. vs Street), and defining all custom fields ahead of time, for example, will help keep you out of trouble.

3) Not Training Your Staff on Those Standard Procedures

It’s not enough just to have documented guidelines for data entry and management. You have to train your staff!

While you’re at it, consider scheduling regularly occurring reviews of data and procedures to make sure that you still have your eye on the ball.

You will only get out as much from your donor database. So treat it like a well-oiled machine and it will pay back dividends in the form of practically useful reports that will help you raise more money.

For more help keeping your donor database clean and useful, download my free eBook Data That Changes The World – Your Guide to Building, Maintaining & Leveraging an Effective Nonprofit Database!



Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.

August 25, 2015

You May Also Enjoy

Become a Member

Whether you’re with a large team or a solo entrepreneur looking to start the next great cause, we have a membership package that will help you grow your network and your cause.