The Ultimate Guide to Donor Management for Nonprofits

Ryan Jones • May 09, 2021

Donor management is the process of storing donor information, recording donor interactions, and using donor data to raise more funds. It’s the yellow brick road that leads you to more fulfilling relationships with your supporters and a bigger, brighter, bolder bottom line for your nonprofit organization.

By keeping track of your donors’ preferences, demographic data, and donation history, you can communicate with them in a way that leads to better donor engagement and fundraising outcomes.

What could be more exciting than that? Literally, nothing!

This article discusses all you need to know about managing your donors. Whether you’re new to the nonprofit sector or a seasoned nonprofit professional, you’ll learn a thing or two that can help you steward your donors and get you closer to achieving your goals.

FREE Nonprofit CRM Buyer’s Guide

Use guide will help you analyze your nonprofit’s donor management needs and shortlist CRM vendors that may be a good fit for your organization.

Why You Should Manage Your Donors

Collecting and analyzing donor data allows you to be better equipped at critical points in the donor journey

Think about it: if you need to remember 20 different things about 100 different donors, you will be responsible for remembering 2000 data points. That is way too much! Now, imagine if you had 2000 donors. . . Woah. 

Recording your donor information in a database helps you remember each valued, individual supporter and lets you adjust your outreach programs to accommodate their unique needs. 

Here are three other benefits of Donor Management:

1. Targeted Communications

Knowing where each donor is in their journey and how they prefer to receive communications allows you to create effective content with the best chance of being read or watched. Recent studies on personalized messaging revealed that recipients would open and read emails 26% more if they contain relevant and personalized subject titles

2. Donor Stewardship

Understanding your donors’ interests, goals, and motivations enables you to steward them along their donor journey. More or less, donor stewardship is the process of relationship building and communication that occurs after donors give their first gift.

Stewardship deepens the bond that donors have with your organization, increases the significance of each future donation, and motivates them to increase their level of support. It’s essential to find a donor management tool that can keep up with the dynamic and complex relationships you share with your donors. 

3. Better Fundraising Outcomes

Reaching out to your donors at the right times with the right information puts your nonprofit in the position to secure consistent, long-term donations. For example, personalizing your communications can help increase email revenue by a staggering 760%!

How to Manage Your Donor Data

Your donor management strategy is only as good as the data you gather. Be sure to follow these recommendations when you’re setting up your donor database from scratch. 

1. Choose a Database

All your data has to go somewhere, right? The best course of action is to invest in a CRM (customer relationship management) platform. 

A CRM is a powerful tool that stores and analyzes your donor data, enabling you to build better donor relationships. Look out for key features that will maximize your return on software investment.

What are the Key Features to Look out for in a CRM

a. Security

For storing private information from hundreds or thousands of people who trust you, you’ll need to keep it safe with password protection.

b. Backup

A cloud-based CRM will ensure that your data is stored somewhere safe, just in case of a catastrophe at your office.

c. Consolidation

It’s essential to have a CRM that merges information from all of your databases to not miss out on seeing key trends in your data. Lack of consolidation can result in duplicated information, avoidable oversights, and missteps in your donor communications

Also, It’s a good idea to use a nonprofit-specific CRM. Choosing a donor management software that is designed from the ground up to help raise money, organize supporters, create campaigns, communicate with donors, and steward donor relationships will do a better job than anything else.

Your Ideal Nonprofit CRM should include:

Bonus points for donor management systems that offer nonprofit project management tools and integrations with third-party software

For a complete discussion of how to choose a donor management CRM, check out The 7 Best CRMs for Nonprofits: How to Choose the Right One. But let’s be real here, Keela offers every one of these features and more.

In addition to the base-level features noted above, Keela’s donor management platform sets itself apart by offering intelligent tools that use AI to help you gain powerful insights into your donor base. Our CRM also gives you wealth screening insights to help you find and understand major donors.

So rather than plugging away for ages, and trying to figure out patterns in your data manually, Keela’s Donor Score and Smart Ask can instantly show you who and when to ask for donations and how much to ask for, so your campaigns reach the right people at the right time. You can also use our DonorSearch Integration to find more major donors who may be better suited for your campaign.

And if it isn’t you who holds the purse strings at your organization, it might be a good idea to have a read-through of our recent article on How to Convince Your Nonprofit Board You Need a CRM.

How Well Do You Really Know Your Donors?

Download our 3-part guide and learn why you need to get to know your donors, how to gather the information you need, and ultimately, what to do when you find it.

2. Gather Donor Data

Data collection can be time-consuming but is essential to managing your donors. It’s worth it to do it correctly right from the outset. Our Donor Toolkit takes a deeper look at data collection, but let’s do a quick overview, so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

4 Types of Donor Data You Should Have 

  • Demographics: age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, marital status, etc. These data points are helpful to segment your contact list (more on that later).
  • Why Donors Give: What are your donors’ motivations? This information helps you customize your communications to capitalize on those motivations.
  • Donation Method: mailed cheque, credit or debit card, online donation, cash, etc. This information allows you to streamline solicitations by focusing on the fundraising channels that work best for your donors. 
  • Gift Type: Cash vs. in-kind or restricted vs. unrestricted. Having this information keeps you from contacting donors in a way that alienates them and removes any obstacles from the giving process.

How to Gather Donor Data

  • Donor Surveys: Brief, specific surveys conducted either by phone or email can be a great way to fill in gaps in your data. With Keela’s Forms, you can create customizable surveys for your stakeholders.
  • Website Analytics: Installing Google Analytics on your nonprofit website and tracking traffic on your donation pages can tell you a lot about your donors’ and supporters’ activities while on your website. 

Email Analytics: Data gained through email analytics is valuable, reliable, and easy to retrieve since you already know the recipient’s email address. You can learn the kinds of Emails that are opened and read more readily than others and use that information to finetune your donor communications.

Keela integrates seamlessly with MailChimp to provide a hassle-free data collection experience, and you can gather the email metrics that matter right from your Keela e-blast tool. 

  • Social Media: The major social platforms offer similar analytics to those you might get from your website. Demographics, interests, and preferences can usually be obtained from these services as part of a business account.

3. Input Donor Data

Now that you’ve decided on a nonprofit database or CRM, it’s time to get some data into your new system. The following are three easy ways to ensure that you will get the most out of your data.

  • Be Consistent: Before you enter any information, set some standards to keep all of your data formatted consistently. For example, there are two ways to record a state where a donor lives: spelling it out (e.g., Oklahoma) or abbreviating it (e.g., OK). While both are technically correct, when you inevitably pull a report showing all of your donors in Oklahoma, you’ll miss some of the users who live in OK. See, consistency is essential!
  • Double-check Addresses: Charity Village suggests periodically checking addresses against the National Change of Address system in the US and Canada. Even if you don’t send a lot of snail mail, it’s still a good idea to keep addresses as up-to-date as possible.
  • Run Data Queries: Once the bulk of your data is either entered or migrated, consider running data queries to find missing data. Hire a data analyst who can look for missing email addresses or incorrect formatting and help you gather as much accurate data as possible. When you’ve determined what’s missing, consider sending out an additional survey or a few inquiry emails to donors to fill in the gaps.

7 Donor Relationship Management Strategies

You did it! You laid a foundation for success by choosing an excellent nonprofit CRM and entering the data using proper data hygiene principles. So what’s next?

It’s not enough to just enter the data and hope for the best. You need a strategy to help you communicate with your donors intentionally and proactively, rather than just reacting to an ever-changing nonprofit landscape.

A comprehensive donor relationship management strategy has a host of benefits:

How you design your donor management strategy will depend on factors that are unique to your organization: your mission, amount of donors, availability of staff, specific events and campaigns, etc.

It’s up to you to determine what will work for you and your donors. Use the following tips to guide your nonprofit’s donor relationship management strategy and create the perfect plan to succeed:

1. Establish Goals

Every marathon needs a finish line, or else you’ll just tire yourself out for no reason!

Goals provide a common target for your team, allowing you to determine if your efforts have been successful. Also, goals motivate you to make productive adjustments if things aren’t going as well as you’d hoped.

Try to set goals that are ambitious yet attainable. If you have records from previous years, use that information to help set goals for the future.

For example:

  • Increase the total number of donations by 10%.
  • Boost repeat donations by 20%.
  • Add 100 new email newsletter subscribers.
  • Grow your social media followers by 5%.

Each of these goals is just one of the puzzle pieces that make up your complete donor relationship success jigsaw. Each of these goals indicates whether or not your strategy is heading in the right direction.

2. Create Donor Persona Profiles

Donor Persona Profiles

One of the simplest ways to use the data in your CRM is by creating donor persona profiles

A donor persona profile is a short document that outlines the traits and preferences of the people you are trying to reach. Each profile includes a semi-fictional narrative section that outlines the type of donor you’re profiling, plus a list of pertinent data points: 

  • Age
  • Gender identity
  • Political affiliation
  • Location
  • Household income
  • Other areas of giving
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Social media and online behavior
  • Marital status
  • Credit score
  • Media consumption
  • Brand allegiances
  • And anything else relevant to your organization

Most organizations create three to five profiles for ideal donors based on patterns they see in their data. When reaching out to donors, use your profiles to craft communications that are engaging to specific recipients.

If used correctly, donor personas will enable you to understand your supporters better, help you engage them more effectively, and ultimately raise more money.

Create Your Nonprofit’s Donor Persona Profile

Donor personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal donor. Use this FREE template to identify the key attributes of your donors so you can improve the way you communicate with them.

3. Create Donor Journey Maps

Donor Journey Maps

The process of giving to a nonprofit is not as simple as just hearing about the organization and getting out your wallet. 

In many cases, donors will go through a predictable cycle before and after donating; this is called a donor journey. If you can record what that journey looks like and predict when a donor is ready to give or need more information, you can optimize your fundraising strategy.

An effective donor journey map has five steps:

  • Raise Awareness
  • Gather Information
  • Ask for Donation
  • Follow Up
  • Re-Ask

Each of these steps will vary with the individual donor or group of donors you are approaching. 

For example, some donors may need three inspiring pieces of content for step one, while others may only need one. Likewise, the amount of time between steps varies, as does the amount you should ask for. 

Luckily, Keela offers intelligent tools that can do some of the legwork for you automatically. Any worthwhile nonprofit CRM should be able to guide you through the steps. When it’s time to contact donors during their journey, use the donor profiles outlined in step two to personalize your communications.

4. Segment Your Donors

Donor Segmentation

One of the most powerful yet straightforward ways to use the data you’ve collected in your CRM is to segment your audience. Segmentation is the process of organizing your contact list into groups based on common data points. 

For example: Suppose you wanted to create a campaign to encourage donors to increase their donation amounts. You could create a segment that shows every contact who has given $50 or less in the last two years. Then, send them an email indicating what a $100 donation can do to make a positive impact. 

Segmentation helps you to personalize your communications in a way that is flexible and customizable. You can even create segments that are based on your donor profiles from step two.

5. Build a Comprehensive Nonprofit Communications Plan

So, you’ve got a CRM in place. Your data is collected and uploaded, and you know how and when to contact your donors. What’s next? 

It’s time to talk to your donors! If you’re going to start putting yourself out there, it helps to have a plan. 

When developing your plan, you’ll want to base it on your donor journey and profiles. Be sure you have the staff resources you need to execute it reliably and the financial resources necessary to produce your campaigns and account for any contingencies.

Here’s what your plan should include:

  • A timeline
  • An allocation of resources 
  • Descriptions of what communications to be shared with stakeholders
  • A list of the goals you set way back in step one.

Here are more topical articles and webinars that can help flesh out your communications plan:

Email Marketing Strategy

Social Media Marketing

Donor Data

Donor Engagement

Build Your Nonprofit’s Content Strategy with this FREE Planner

Use this content calendar and planner to map out a strategy for communicating with your donors and supporters online.

6. Personalize Your Communications

No matter what your communications plan is, you have to remember to say thank you. Your sincere gratitude is the most critical message you can deliver to your supporters. The best way to convey that sincerity is to personalize your thank you messages with data from your CRM.

Of course, you should use their names, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Use segmentation to thank volunteers specifically for volunteering, then encourage them to donate; likewise, thank donors for giving and invite them to volunteer. 

Time your thank you messages according to your donor journey map and use donor profiles to determine how donors want to be thanked. For example, major donors in older age groups love to get thank-you cards in the mail.

Be sure to showcase the impact that a donor’s contribution has made to your mission and speak to them as if your relationship will continue for years to come. If you thank them properly, it will.

7. Report on Progress

Each time you set a goal, create a campaign, collect the resulting data, and analyze the outcomes, you learn a little more about your donors and strategy. This process lets you build on your campaigns and communications during the next cycle. 

Reporting is the next step to creating better campaigns, plans, and programs that positively change the world.

When you get your results, compare them to industry benchmarks, previous campaign results, and any other numbers you have that will help you establish fundraising trends.

You should also take advantage of any automated reporting that your CRM can provide. For instance, Keela’s campaign reporting tool helps you understand what worked, what didn’t, and what to do next time.

Reporting will also help you make adjustments to your donor profiles and donor journey maps and even inform how you collect and enter data in the future. If you’re doing it right, you’ll become your own best data source.

See How Nonprofits Use Keela to Raise 4x More!

Get a glimpse of how Keela’s donor management system can help you develop better relationships, retain donors and raise more for your cause.

How to Get Your Board Members Involved in Donor Engagement

This all might seem like too much. We get it; it’s a lot. But it’s doable. 

Start small, work your way through the steps, and repeat each time you make it to the end of a cycle.

Don’t forget to delegate. Data collection is a great way to get your staff and volunteers involved and take some things off your plate. Get your board members involved too! Make it part of your organization’s policies to get them involved in donor engagement activities from time to time.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t see significant changes right away. No one should expect to see their numbers double or triple overnight. There is no ultimate outcome of donor management, it’s all about the process.

After a while, you’ll realize that your donor management practices have made a significant impact on your organization and it will only keep getting better. So, keep managing those donors!