Illustration of writing an article on a laptop

ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Ditch the Excel Spreadsheets, or Why Effective Marketing Requires a More Sophisticated Database

Nonprofit organizations have become sophisticated marketers using techniques like targeted campaigns and engagement (nurture) tracks to build strong, sustainable relationships with potential supporters.

Why then, do they still limit their effectiveness by using antiquated systems for the data so important to making these marketing tools effective?

We all have experience with the challenges presented by these systems.

1. Similar data is in different places

I want to put together a mailing list for my big annual event. I pull last year’s invite list from my mass email tool. Then I find the list of “day ofs” that I don’t have but my event coordinator (hopefully) stored in an Excel spreadsheet. I put the two together, hoping that I didn’t miss anyone because they weren’t in last year’s emailing, or that I don’t send two (or more) invites to my spam-sensitive donors.

2. Touchpoints and follow-up are hard to remember

How many times have you forgotten to call someone back after a meeting? ‘Nuf said.

3. Targeting is difficult

I want to reach out to people who have donated multiple times in the past, but did not donate this year. I concede that I’m not going to check all the donations because that might be as many as 3 or 4 spreadsheets a year, and if donations came in online it’s an additional problem. So, I look for the yearly event sheets for the last several years and hope they are all on the shared drive, in the same directory.

A better solution: Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

1. The data is in one and only one place

When all the data for individuals and companies is one place, the most current data can be shared by all: contact information, and if you choose, donation and touchpoint information also. Duplication is reduced. Consistency is increased. Best practice is easier to implement.

2. The database supports multiple types of data and creates relationships between them

CRM databases typically capture contact and touchpoint information on individuals and organizations. Sales (donations, grants, memberships for nonprofits) and campaign information is often captured also. Since the data is related by the CRM, names for example don’t have to be added for each donation.

There are many applications that provide the functionality listed above. But we know intuitively that Access is the not the same as Blackbaud or Salesforce. What characteristics do the best solutions have?

What to look for

1. Cloud-based

Cloud-based applications have become a de-facto requirement for the organization. We need to be able to work from anywhere, or we get an unexpected meeting with a major potential donor and we want all the background but can’t get back to the office. All cloud-based solutions are not alike, though, and it’s important to check on availability, redundancy and security.

2. Integrated with other applications

In organizations, data comes from many sources. We have a mass email application associated with a Contact Us form on our website. Advocacy may be part of our mission and we may have a dedicated advocacy application. Donations may be made online through another application or provider. The “Rolodex” hasn’t disappeared either and we will constantly be meeting people and collecting their contact information. How does all this information get into a single database? If we’re not going to enter all of this manually there must be automated integration.

3. Flexible and easy to reconfigure

I currently collect data on gender and race for my grants. Now I get a new grant that wants to see efficacy by age or economic level. How fast can I respond? How expensive is it to modify my systems? Do I have to collect this new data separately, on an Excel spreadsheet?

4. Support for data analysis with reporting tools that everyone can use

Quick! Everybody who has created an Access report themselves, raise your hand. Anybody? Data analysis is only as effective as the ease of getting the answers. If we need to turn in a request to someone else and wait several days, and then start the process again if we have a follow-up, the data is not as useful.

Learn more

Regardless of which marketing techniques you are using or planning on using, you will agree that having good data management technology and practices are critical. If you would like to review the marketing concepts such as peer-to-peer fundraising, engagement ladder and micro targeting and understand how a database can help your organization be more successful, join me for a workshop at the 25th Annual Nonprofit Conference on Sustainability Strategies on October 18, 2017, in Phoenix.

John Couleur is a special projects consultant for Sputnik Moment, a Salesforce Integration Partner. John's diverse pre-Salesforce background, in for-profit technology management and nonprofit management, capacity building and social enterprise development, provide him a unique perspective for creating nonprofit technology solutions.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog