What questions are you asking your database?

What questions are you asking your database?


5 October 2021


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


I’m working on a Rally Workshop with two fabulous colleagues. The workshop is called Using Donor Software to Help Raise More Money, and it will be virtually presented this afternoon. (Please make plans to join us!)

Along the way, I’ve been thinking again about the various ways databases are used.

And how we are not using them enough.

For example, the most obvious way a database is used is more or less as institutional memory. A record of what has already happened related to donors and giving. But databases can also be used to evaluate what happened to help you decide what to do now and moving forward. They can be used to help you predict what will happen in the next year or years. And they can help you keep track of the future actions necessary to meet your fundraising goals.

I think that, as a community, we are missing out on a lot of this information.

In thinking through the workshop, I brainstormed a list of questions we should be able to ask our databases, and how we might interpret the information we get back. These questions are by no means exhaustive, but I hope they can stimulate some creative thinking on your part.

What questions are you asking your database?



How much money came in as a result of our Fall appeal?


How does that compare with our results from last year? The last five years?

Are we trending in the right direction?

Assuming that we are writing appeal letters to raise money and not just to complete another task on our to-do list, what can we learn from the trend lines? Did a particular theme work better than others? Are we beginning to identify a segment of our donorbase that responds to messages about caring for the land versus birding, through-hiking, or blueberries? If so, we might be able to raise more money by tailoring the appeal messages each year to specific audience segments.

And consider that the segment of our donorbase who NEVER responds to a Fall appeal letter is an important segment also. What if we decided NOT to mail to them this year?



How many of our 2020 donors have yet to give again this year?


Show me the list, complete with contact information. We have three months left. Let’s try something else. Would a reminder letter help? An email sequence? A phone call? Do our Board members know them?

Should we perhaps try to find out why they haven’t given?

Think about how pleasing it might be to see that list dwindle (or disappear!) between now and 12/31!



What was our renewal rate for 2019, and how does that compare with 2018 and 2017?


Again – trend lines. Are we heading in the right direction? Can we explain what’s going on?

For example, poor renewal rates explained by an influx of new members is probably not particularly worrisome. We could rerun the reports with just members who have been giving for at least two years. Now what does the trend line look like?

What could we try, in 2022, to improve from here?



What is the average 5-year-value for donors whose first gift was in response to direct mail, a fundraising event, a field trip, or a social media campaign?


This is a metric I have just recently begun to track, and I have been using it as a justification for spending money on donor recruitment. If I can show that by spending X to recruit a member who then gives Y over the first five years of membership, I can usually justify spending more and more money on marketing.

What we also learn is that there are significant differences in the 5-year experience based on how someone was recruited. For example, someone who is a member because they were gifted a membership often does not renew, does not increase their giving over time, and usually has a low 5-year value. What does this tell us about whether we should invest in member-get-a-member campaigns, birthday parties, and so on?

How do our direct mail, event, field trip, project appeal, and social media campaign members give over time? How is it changing? What can that tell us about how and where to direct our marketing money in the future?



What percentage of our donor population has attended one of our engagement events within the past two years?


How does that compare with our engagement metrics from last year and the year before?

There is plenty of evidence that correlates loyalty, longevity, and even 5-year-value to how many different “channels” a donor is engaged by. And these factors, in turn, correlate with organizational stability and resilience.

A donor who regularly attends field trips and/or the annual meeting, responds to social media posts, and open the e-News is also more likely to renew their membership and donate to the annual appeal letter.

So how successful are we? What could we do differently to increase our member engagement? What if, instead of offering MORE of the same type of engagement opportunities, we offered a more diverse selection?



These are but a few of the questions we will be including in this afternoon’s workshop. Can your database answer them?


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Here’s a bonus question your database should be able to answer: What are my donor engagement/stewardship assignments and responsibilities this month?


PPS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.



Photo by Mary courtesy of Stocksnap.io.



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