4 Development Activities to Do Now for Future Payoff

  • April 6, 2020
  • by Melissa Whetzel and Ashley Sweeney

When a storm is coming, you prepare. Some people prepare before the storm, some prepare after it passes, anticipating a new normal. Either way, you’re making sure your foundation is solid so you are ready for anything that comes your way.

Think about the outpouring of support for healthcare workers during a public health crisis. How are those fundraising organizations going to thank and steward those new donors? How do they make sure gift officers aren’t overloaded? How will they re-engage these donors after the crisis?

Take time now – or when you have it – to strengthen your foundation. Here are four ways to get started:

1. Ensure you have correct data


Data health, data hygiene, clean data – whatever you want to call it, it’s important.

Without correct constituent information, you are wasting money with every solicitation and missing out on gifts. According to research:

  • An average organization with a database of 50,000 records could be wasting up to $3,200 per mailing due to inaccurate addresses and deceased records.
  • On average, 8% of constituent records are matching gift-eligible but have not been identified. And approximately one in ten gifts given to nonprofits can be matched.

You should consider it a hard-and-fast rule that if you don’t have a high-quality name and address for a donor, it will be nearly impossible to append or derive any kind of value-added insight about that person.

Take time now to get everything in order and create a plan to keep your data updated so you can maximize your fundraising for the rest of the year. Can’t do it yourself? Ask for help!

  • Update addresses every 90 days. In addition to meeting the USPS guidelines, catch those who do not complete NCOA forms and append addresses to make sure they are deliverable.
  • Find constituent phone numbers. Check and identify constituent phone numbers annually – and cell phone numbers biannually.
  • Ensure email delivery. Email deliverability is a real issue facing even the biggest fundraising organizations. In 2019, online giving grew by 6.8%, so the ability to reach supporters digitally is key. Set a schedule to check your email addresses annually.
  • Identify deceased constituents. Annually, check your database to avoid embarrassing mistakes and unnecessary postage.
  • Remove duplicate records. Even the most careful data entry process can allow for mistakes to happen. Removing duplicates allows better donor management, segmentation, and campaign optimization – especially if there are multiple databases (like a donor database and patient database).

2. Training


It’s easy to push training to the bottom of a packed priority list, but it is truly an investment. The time you spend learning best practices or software shortcuts will be paid back exponentially in efficiency in your workdays.

Tons of organizations are offering free training – including Blackbaud! Don’t miss this opportunity and take it one step further. Schedule time on your calendar monthly for training so it doesn’t drop to the bottom of the priority list again!

  • On-demand eLearning videos– access the training you want at any time, on your own schedule.
  • Virtual instructor-led courses– sign-up for a scheduled course with the ability to ask questions.
  • Remote private training– virtually train a group of staff all at once with a tailored agenda determined by your organization.
  • Get your Certification– it’s more than just a fun icon in your email signature! It shows true mastery of your position.
  • Webinars– fundraising experts are offering webinars on nearly every subject. This is a great way to get new ideas.

3. Cleaning Up Portfolios


This is a great time to clean up existing portfolios of donors and prospects. Most notably:

  • Pay attention to portfolio size. Depending on the type of donors a gift officer is working with (and maybe other factors too), portfolios could be as small as 50 or as big as 150 constituents, but anything much smaller or bigger should signal the need to rescale to a manageable portfolio that’s in line with best practices.
  • Create a balanced portfolio. Ensure a healthy distribution of donors and prospects across development stages, like qualification, cultivation, and solicitation.
  • Use data to make decisions. Whether you use analytics data, meaningful internal data for your organization, or both, look for opportunities to pair objectivity with the subjective “good fundraising gut.”

If you have the bandwidth, establish benchmarks and guidelines for ongoing portfolio and pipeline management. These can be hearty topics—we could write an entirely separate blog post about these things—but it’s important to remember that the time and talent you commit to cleaning out, reprioritizing, and supplementing your portfolios is an ongoing process.

  • Revisit portfolios quarterly. This seems to be enough time to settle into good development work but not so often that it’s burdensome to spend some quality time on the process.
  • Set and commit to a next date of portfolio review. When you have a portfolio management meeting on the calendar, it will drive ongoing attention and activity.

If you can add an additional layer, consider prospect research to make the most of your refreshed portfolios and to get ready for your next portfolio management meeting. Research can be very technical and leverage lots of data and analytics—or it can be more informal and rely on Google searches. Either way, remember a couple key things:

  • You don’t need to research everyone—just the right people. Especially if research is newer for your team, prioritize time on people your organization doesn’t know well.
  • Avoid one of the bigger pitfalls in this effort, which is following “rabbit holes.” The outcomes should be useful, actionable information that gift officers can use to advance the relationship—not endless detail. This is important because…
  • Maintain a balance of “research qualification” and “relationship qualification.” Research time that doesn’t facilitate, spark, or lead to action in your donors and prospects isn’t time well spent, even when you have a little more time in your day.
  • Purchase data appends. Maybe this is the time to add valuable information to your constituent records to build up portfolios so gift officers can ask the right people for the right size gift.

4. Develop a Deliberate Approach to Stewardship


Lots of organizations and fundraisers are especially (and rightfully) focused on stewarding their existing donors and prospects right now. Creating a strategic approach to stewardship, which is often an under-resourced part of development work, can help to position your organization for the future.

Creating a well-documented stewardship plan with clear procedures and existing within the fundraising database so fundraisers take action—can help connect activity to outcomes. It can help answer questions like, “What demonstrations of gratitude inspire donors at this organization to become even more involved than they are today?”

For example, organizations with a society structure in place—meaning there’s a giving arrangement already in place that publicly identifies contributors at certain levels—should consider how you’re thanking those people, what’s working well, and manageable next steps to evolve your approach.

For smaller, newer, or rapidly evolving organizations, consider choosing a valuable segment of your donor base as a starting place—perhaps people contributing around $1,000—and identify a couple things your team could do on an ongoing basis to acknowledge how important those people are to achieving your mission. Worry less about doing things that are flashy and focus more on highlighting your mission in a creative, heartfelt way. A simple appreciation phone call from people on staff who are creating change in your community through the gifts of donors can make a lasting impression.

And one of the best ways to learn what inspires your donors is to talk to them about it. Often, we spend time together as development professionals putting ideas on paper and making plans—but we don’t “shop” those ideas and plans with the people they’re designed to impact positively. Is there better stewardship than valuing the advice of your most trusted donors so they’re part of building the vision of an organization about which they care deeply?