One Big Reason Your Donation Letter Didn’t Work


When Data Hygiene Hampers Success

It’s frustrating when a donation request letter doesn’t perform.

After all, you spent many precious hours working to find the right words, the right photos and the right design to motivate your donors.

When this happens, it’s tempting to blame the medium. Maybe you tell yourself, “No one reads donation letters anymore. Next time, we better do something like a postcard – or go completely digital.”

I once had this reaction, too. But before you switch – especially to a format with lower average response rates – consider this explanation instead.

Your data is a hot mess.

Common Data Hygiene Issues

When we take on a new client, we ask a lot of questions about their donor list and database. Good donor stewardship runs on good data.

We help clients work through their data hygiene issues – often in a hands-on way – so their next mailing is set up for success. Here are some of the issues we encounter:

  • Multiple Data Sources: Some nonprofits still have their donor data in multiple Excel spreadsheets or even Access databases! (If that’s you, I beg you to go to now and find reduced price software that can get your data house in order before Giving Season.) Having your data in multiple places leads to corrupt and inaccurate records. And that severely limits the effectiveness of any donor communication you might undertake.

  • Duplication: Before your last mailing, did someone go into your database and check for duplicate records? It’s common to find duplicates of the same contact, like Mike Hanson and Michael Hanson with the same address. You don’t want to pay to send two letters to Mike! Same thing goes for family members who live together at the same address. Determine the donation decision maker or combine them into one Hanson Family letter.

  • Outdated Addresses: When people move, they often file a change of the address form with the post office. Before each mailing, you need to run your list through the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. Beezable does this automatically, as do most reputable printers/mailing houses.

  • Exclusions: Depending on how you tag your data, there may be folks in your database who shouldn’t receive your next donor mailing. Maybe they’re corporate vs. individual donors. Maybe they’re non-fundraising staff. Maybe this mailing isn’t appropriate for the major donor you’re meeting with next Tuesday. Either way, there needs to be a way to filter your database so the right people receive the right mailing – at the right time.

If these issues sound familiar, you’re in good company. Nonprofits large and small have data issues.

This happens because your data person got a new job. Or you never had a data person to begin with!

Maybe no one was cross-trained on your software. Or your nonprofit hasn’t communicated with donors in months (or years!) and the database just grew some cobwebs.

Fix Data Issues

But don’t despair. Data issues can be fixed. And it’s a perfect task to undertake when things are a little quieter in the office.

Reach out to me if you need help. Let’s talk it through. An outside perspective also can help you add new donor prospects you may not have thought of!

Clean up your data now. And get ready to achieve more success with your next donation request letter or 2019 annual appeal.

Laura Ingalls is CEO of Abeja Solutions and co-creator of Beezable, a tool that makes direct mail as easy as sending an email. She’s produced for CNN, served as a humanitarian spokesperson in Iraq and led award-winning nonprofit and corporate communications teams. Read more from Laura.

Photo by Element5 Digital.

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