Data & Technology

6 Nonprofit Data Management Best Practices

Here are six nonprofit data management best practices to ensure you have robust data to support your work and fundraising efforts.

For nonprofits, data is a crucial part of driving donations and building connections. While its use might not be immediately obvious to outside observers, behind the scenes your data can show you how your donors prefer to communicate with you, which events drive the most giving, and opportunities to cultivate new donors from your supporters’ networks.

Your potential for growth, however, is only as good as the data you collect. If you don’t have policies and procedures in place to gather data in a timely and organized manner, you might miss opportunities to leverage it for your mission.

Below, we’ll cover six nonprofit data management best practices to ensure you have robust data to support your work and fundraising efforts.

Download: Nonprofit Software Audit Template

1. Create a Standard Operating Procedure for All Staff

Written policies and procedures help get all staff on the same page with your data collection efforts. A standard operating procedure (SOP) provides step-by-step instructions that guide the core functions of your development department. This includes external processes related to donor cultivation and stewardship, but also highlights internal data management expectations.

Formalizing your data management process in your SOP provides a:

  • Consistent process for all staff to follow
  • Document to reference when data questions arise
  • Manual for new staff to prevent data quality issues resulting from staff turnover

You’ll want to think through which data collection policies will help you stay organized, meet fundraising goals, and support your donors. Some topics you may want to highlight include:

  • Naming conventions: How you format addresses and dates, label note files, and other universal naming strategies across data types
  • Timeliness for entry: Expectations for how quickly data should be captured in your system after it is collected
  • Ensuring completeness: Checks and balances to reduce and prevent missing data elements
  • Specific staff roles: Who is responsible for data collection and particular parts of your data quality plan
  • Training: Notes on how you’ll train new staff, who is responsible for conducting the training, how you’ll document who has completed training, and ways you’ll provide refresher training to ensure all staff understand your SOP

2. Capture Holistic Donor Data in One Place

Using holistic relationship management software like Instil can ensure your data is organized in a centralized place whenever you want it. You won’t need to reach out to your volunteer coordinator to review the service logs of donors or ask your major gifts officer for their calendar on donor meetings. These data elements, along with any others, will be stored in one donor profile where all staff can review the information holistically. Even more importantly, when a staff member leaves the organization, you'll retain the ability to access all of the historic information you need. 

Getting rid of duplicate files and siloed information improves staff efficiency and, ultimately, your ability to build strong relationships with your donors. Keeping your data in one place gives you a quick, whole picture of your donors to know exactly where they are in their giving journeys.

3. Ensure Regular Data Hygiene and Upkeep

Even the best databases can wane in their effectiveness if you don’t make periodic tidying and upkeep part of your nonprofit data management practices. There are a few steps you can take to ensure your data remains clean and usable for all staff, such as:

  • Perform regular audits: Monthly, quarterly, or yearly, select donor profiles to spot check. Look for missing data elements, incorrect formatting, and other data errors. Note any common mistakes to target for additional staff training. 
  • Remove errors or duplicate data: As you audit your data, correct any errors and remove duplicate entries. Doing this daily for any donor profiles you’ve interacted with can keep you ahead of data quality issues.
  • Backup your data: Ensure your data is stored securely on the cloud or another server so you don’t lose valuable information if something happens.
  • Regular staff training on best practices: Let your staff know about your data hygiene protocols and remind them of best practices for data upkeep through regular, digestible training events.

Without taking these steps, your database can turn into a digital junk drawer. While these administrative tasks can be easy to put off, always remember that good data hygiene translates to strong donor relationships.

4. Select User-Friendly Donor Management Software

Selecting the right donor management software for your team can make your nonprofit data management experience a breeze. Modern databases offer features that assist with many data management best practices, such as routine data audits, deduplication, and data security.

User-friendly donor databases aim to make your job easier. They help keep your data organized in one place where all staff can access it for donor stewardship activities. Not all are built the same, so you’ll want to review your options to find a solution that works best for your team.

The best-laid data management plans can go awry if your data management tools are confusing or difficult to use, prompting your team to instead rely on workarounds such as external spreadsheets. Instil is a tool that nonprofit staff love using, because we make it really easy to enter your data. The Instil platform is designed to be intuitive to navigate and use, so anyone on your team can log in and use it without needing any training. We also have a mobile-friendly interface, so you don’t have to wait until you’re back at your computer to capture valuable donor data while on the go. 

Instil also offers the ability to integrate with other tools, such as email and fundraising platforms, so you can pull critical data in automatically and view it holistically. Look for a platform with this type of ease in analyzing your data, as well as quality customer service support should any questions arise.

5. Prioritize Data Security

Data security protects your organization and builds trust with your donors. Nonprofit data management should always prioritize data security so donors can feel comfortable with you handling their information appropriately.

You can work with your IT department to ensure that you:

  • Keep your software updated and secure
  • Maintain a secure payment processor, website, and other tools
  • Use strong passwords
  • Implement protocols for working remotely and using mobile devices
  • Install anti-virus protection
  • Set up secure Wi-Fi
  • Educate staff on suspicious emails and other cybersecurity threats
  • Establish controls on who has access to which data
  • Dispose of data you no longer need in a secure fashion

6. Use Your Data

The final nonprofit data management best practice sounds simple, but can surprisingly still be overlooked: Your data will only work for you if you use it!

If you’re going to collect donor data, make sure to have a plan in place for how you’re going to leverage it for donor stewardship, fundraising, event planning, and other activities for your nonprofit. For example, you might:

  • Run reports to inform your donor engagement and marketing strategies
  • Incorporate data into infographics for your annual reports
  • Use data to demonstrate your impact in grant applications
  • Review data to see which donors are ready to move into a new donor cohort

Ensure your efforts to collect and organize your data are put to good use for your mission.

Leverage Effective Nonprofit Data Management to Engage Your Donors

Nonprofit data management is a critical piece of any organization’s mission. Quality data allows you to engage your supporters in a meaningful way and grow your impact. By following best practices for nonprofit data management, you can turn first-time donors into lifelong champions for your cause.

Instil’s user-friendly software can make your data management tasks simple, even for staff new to using a donor database. Sign up for a free demo to see how our software can help keep you organized and focused on forging authentic relationships with your supporters!

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