Donor Retention and Donor Databases

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    A Guest Posting by Mari Lane Gewecke (The second of two guest postings on this subject)

    A client contacted me after being approached by a donor database sales representative with a proposal to solve their donor retention challenges by replacing their current database.

    The feature in the new software that most interested my client was an automatic pop-up alert when they have lapsed donors. They felt that this feature was much simpler than making the effort to run a query in their current software and, thus, would help them retain donors.

    I am intrigued by the notion that actual human contact with our donors could be replaced by software. But then, I am old-fashioned enough to think that donor stewardship is the way to retain donors.

    Knowing the specific needs of the client organization, my suggestion was to review the new software for the following:
    • How many options can you use to code a constituent?
    • How are grants, campaign pledges and pledge payments recorded?
    • How does campaign pledge payment invoicing work?
    • How does the software handle importing of new records and/or data elements,
    such as phone numbers or zip+4 codes?
    • How and in what formats does it export data?
    • How is annual development income tracked and reported? By program?
    • How does it manage annual appeals?
    • How are grants tracked and reported?
    • How does report generation work, and what types of reports can be generated?
    • How does the mail merge work?
    • How do you search the database using multiple criteria?
    • How do you segment a group of constituents?
    • How are special events managed and reported?

    A good software database can satisfactorily address all of the above questions, and can track donor retention through reports. All you have to do is run the appropriate query.

    Of course, if a database is too complicated for staff to use it effectively, then perhaps it is a good idea to switch to something easier to understand.

    It is better to have something that is limited in scope but usable than something that can do everything, if only you knew how.

    In the end, donor retention cannot be accomplished by software. Retaining donors comes from effective donor relations, which involves recognition and communication, not automated pop-ups on a computer monitor.

    Mari Lane Gewecke, of Lane Gewecke Consulting, has been advising client organizations on their strategic and fund development planning for more than 20 years. Read more about Mari at
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