Bliou Enterprises


How Do You Address Your Donors?

November 1st, 2010

Helen* initially had difficulty implementing an organizational policy for database issues on how constituents were entered, updated, etc.  That is, until an email went out addressed, “Dear Mr. Smith and Mrs. Deceased.”  Mr. Smith was not pleased.

“Of course, we had to apologize profusely to Mr. Smith for the error,” Helen says, “But apparently, that is what it took for our organization to realize that we seriously needed to implement an overall policy throughout . . . along with training for all staff.  We didn’t make that mistake again!”

Addressing your donors in the manner they wish to be is key to getting the response you want, and this begins with having specific, accurate data that is customizable.  Not only do you want to know such things as address, phone, email and spouse names, but it’s also important to track nicknames, titles, degrees and so forth.  How formal or informal are your constituents?  For some organizations, they still maintain a more formal approach with direct mail (“Dear Mr. Smith,”) but opt for an informal tone with email: (“Dear John,”).

Of course, no organization can know everyone in their database personally, which necessitates creating default policies for records which have unknown fields or unanswered questions.  Testing can help, as well as knowing your demographic’s overall tendencies and preferences.

Ivan* works for a religious affiliated organization, and a great many of his constituents prefer to be addressed as “Rev. and Mrs.” therefore, the defaults in his database are to list the man’s name first for couples, and to make unknown titles for married women as “Mrs.”

Joan*, on the other hand, works at an organization where they have found that most women prefer the title “Ms.” – married or not – and so if a woman’s title is unknown, their protocol is to list that instead; however, they also list the man’s name first in all couples for direct mail and email.

Kaitlin’s* organization delved deeper into their data and decided that they would list the donor’s name first when addressing couples.  For couples who had not yet donated, they decided to list the woman’s name first, because upon analyzing their data, they discovered that the wife donated more frequently than the husband.

A recent study supports the findings of Kaitlin’s organization.  For every category of income group, the likelihood of donating to charity for female heads of household was higher.  In each group but one, the amount of giving was higher among women as well.

Lloyd* ran into double difficulty making policy with his constituents.  In addition to having many foreign names in his international database (and frequently being unable to ascertain gender when it wasn’t listed), he had many people who had earned various professional degrees and found himself addressing “Dr. ___ and Dr. ___.”  The order seemed to matter less than proper spelling and title.

Morgan’s* organization, on the other hand, needed to make a judgment call regarding same sex partners.  Their constituent base had a significant enough of an LGBT segment that they wanted to acknowledge and honor them by treating them as couples and address them accordingly when living at the same address.  On the other hand, they also had a segment of college students – many of whom were simply roommates, and should get separate mailings and be treated as individuals.  The organization worried that, in either case, one segment might end up feeling insulted with a default policy that didn’t recognize and address their circumstances.

Morgan’s organization decided that, until specifics were documented, each individual would receive a mailing.  This was followed up with concerted efforts to gain more detailed information on all supporters, however, via various incentive methods, which proved to be quite successful not only in engaging their constituent base, but in improving the overall quality of information in their database.

Nicholas* worked at an organization that deals with a great many memorial donations, and they have a policy which might seem controversial to some, but he assures me that it works for them, and they haven’t been swarmed with complaints over it.

Their database tracks the donor information of those who make memorial gifts, and the dates of the deceased.  On the anniversary of the dates of the deceased, his organization makes a point to send the donors a card which expresses a “Thinking of you at this difficult time” type of sentiment.

As Nicholas explains, the date is ever-present in the mind of loved ones, and they appreciate that someone remembers . . . because often, even those who do remember feel that the event can’t be talked about or acknowledged.

There is no direct solicitation of any sort within the card, but a return envelope is enclosed, and his organization does get some donations returned in these envelopes over time.  In any event, his organization maintains a presence in the mind of the donor, which can be difficult with memorial gifts, since those donors often are only one-time contributors.  This “anniversary card” campaign has turned many more into repeat donors since it began.

Whether you agree or not with some of these approaches, they are made possible because of detailed record keeping and specific, targeted policies and campaigns.  All fund raising – but particularly Annual Giving – begins and ends with the quality of the database.

Are there campaigns that you have been able to do – or wish you could tackle – because of how your database is structured?  What could you accomplish if your database allowed for it and helped you instead of hindered?

No database is perfectly clean, of course.  A more accurate question would be “How dirty is your database?”
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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