Do You Really Need a Donor Database?
Of course you do. When you have more donors than you can remember, you always need a database to keep track of them. But do you need a donor database in the traditional sense? Maybe the time has come to think about it in a new way.
Here’s the challenge: Given the shift in donor behavior toward the Web, is it possible that your website, with its own database behind it, could be your donor database? In other words, has the desire for donors to serve themselves online forced us to consider merging the once separate disciplines of database and Web?
Up to now, charities have had people dedicated to opening mail, processing checks and producing acknowledgments. Perhaps because of their donors’ demographics they could not see that coming to an end anytime soon. Sometimes those activities are outsourced, but whoever does them, the manual processes have been necessary due to the manual nature of making a financial contribution to a cause. In some cases more person-power is assigned to fund processing than fundraising.
And when asked whether they see a move toward online giving, I’ve heard many charities say that their donors are older people, and older people prefer putting checks in the mail to giving online. Sometimes that's due to fears over security, and for others it’s easier, frankly, to mail a check than working out how to make a gift via the website.
So for all of these reasons and more, donor databases have been oriented toward heavy-duty staff use — batch gift entry, imports and exports to and from accounting systems, and so on. The transactions that come in on the website have been manually entered into the donor database, and as the volumes grew they were probably imported — but the systems remained separate.
Now it is apparent that we are seeing a shift in donor behavior. Whether or not we have reached the tipping point is not clear, but whatever the reasons, we saw an increase in online giving of 20 percent in 2011, compared to 2010 (M+R / NTEN survey). In the U.S. in 2001, only 4 percent of people had given online, but in 2011 that figure was 65 percent (Network for Good Evolution of the Online Donor). Maybe today’s older donors are more Web-savvy than they used to be — 47 percent of JustGiving’s donations came from donors age 41 and over. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t intend to give up using the Internet when I get older. I can’t think of a more convenient way to give. In some parts of the world it may not be possible to give by check. In Europe there’s a debate about when, not if, to phase out checks (or cheques) altogether.
So just as donors expect to do more for themselves online, the technology needs to enable that, and it begins to make sense that the database and the website could be one and the same.
What would a combined database and website look like? It’s all down to your role. As a donor or a prospective donor, it’s just a normal website — with online giving as well as the other pages you expect to see. As a staff user you log in to the site and see all the staff-based functions that you need for your particular job — such as reports, batch gift entry, marketing tools and the tools to manage the website content. As a branch or chapter manager, it’s probably somewhere between the two. But the main difference is you only need one system, which should mean reduced costs, saved time and accurate, up-to-date information — all which will help you direct more resources to your programs.