What is donor data cleansing and why is it key to Christmas appeal success?

This year, when many non-profit organisations are reeling from the tangled social and financial effects of the pandemic and being forced to do more with less, the key to Christmas appeal success will be reducing waste and improving return on investment. Central to those goals is your donor data. It’s one of your organisation’s most valuable assets, and it needs to be fit for purpose.

Data cleansing is the practice of taking your data and making sure that it’s as complete and correct as possible so you can put it to work for your organisation. Conversely, using dirty data—that which is incomplete, fragmented, duplicated, or invalid—will work against you, by wasting your budget and limiting your potential revenue.

Here are some of the key facets of your donor data that you should consider when preparing for your Christmas appeal this year.

Have your supporters moved?

Direct mail is a traditional and often highly fruitful campaign channel for appeals. It is also costly. When every item returned to sender represents not just a wasted mail package, but also a missed opportunity to receive a potential donation, the cost of incorrect or incomplete addresses in your database can add up very fast.

For example, if you were to have a contact database of 100,000 potential donors and a cost of $5 per mail pack, the cost of just 5% of those mail packs proving undeliverable would mean a waste of $25,000. If a further 10% of those undeliverable mail packs would have resulted in donations, your revenue losses skyrocket.

The National Change of Address database uses information derived from Australia Post’s Mail Redirection service, which Australia Post reports captures 80% of Australians who move house annually. By checking your donor data against the NCOA, your organisation can make sure that your wastage is reduced and your revenue is protected.

Are your donors’ email addresses valid?

On average email is a relatively inexpensive method of contacting your donors. But if your database of email contacts includes a large number of incorrect or invalid email addresses, it can actually cost you a lot more than it might initially appear to. This is because a poor sender reputation can lose you the opportunity to contact even those recipients whose correct and up to date information you do have.

Email addresses are among some of the more changeable contact information non-profits receive from their supporters: they become defunct as soon as people change jobs, because they don’t like their provider anymore, or because their inbox has been compromised. Old and invalid email addresses also get recycled and used as “spam traps” by service providers specifically to determine if email senders are adhering to best practice guidelines and ensuring their data is up to date.

A low delivery rate of emails to real email addresses, or attempting to email a high number of spam traps, can quickly result in emails from your domain being flagged as spam. This means that future emails from your organization may not be received by your donors, even if you are sending them to the correct email addresses.

Email checking will test the email addresses in your database, ensuring both that they meet the right syntax requirements to be a real email address and determining whether or not they will bounce when you try to send emails to them. This can be an invaluable tool to preserve your sender reputation and ensure you don’t end up in the spam folder.

Are the phone numbers in your database correct?

Phone numbers in your database may be incorrect or invalid for diverse reasons: donors may take on a new job, move houses and change landlines, or simply update their numbers. Phone calls to incorrect or invalid numbers can incur call costs of up to $7 per attempt.

In an example database of 100,000 potential donors, where 20,000 of them have incorrect or invalid phone numbers, attempting to call those donors could represent up to $140,000 in wasted money that would be better used for other ends.

Phone verification services can determine if the numbers associated with donor records are correct and valid, and thereby reduce the costs associated with attempted phone calls that can’t benefit your organisation.

Are you still soliciting donations from supporters who have passed away?

It’s important to know if members of your donor database have passed away. Traditionally, the obligation of notifying organisations of the passing of a loved one has fallen upon bereaved family members, but this burden can be a heavy one for a family in a time of crisis—and it only becomes more difficult if the deceased is the subject of duplicate or incomplete records, which may result in having to make the notification more than once.

There is no possible return on investment available when soliciting donations from a deceased person, so attempts to contact them for this purpose are a waste of your organisation’s resources. Additionally, trying to contact deceased donors can have implications for non-profits’ privacy obligations, and repeated attempts to solicit donations from a deceased loved one can be deeply damaging to the public perception of your organisation.

The Australian Death Check allows organisations to check their data against more than three million official government death records. It can help your organisation reduce the potential for waste, the risk of abrogating your privacy responsibilities, and the reliance on loved ones to notify your organisation of a donor’s passing.

To find out more about how DCA’s automated cleansing solution has helped other non-profit organisations maintain clean and up-to-date donor data to improve their response and retention rates while reducing their reliance on manual labour, you can check out our work with the Austin Health Foundation here.

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