How to Find Duplicates in your Database using an NCOA Cleaning

There is no magic pill that will keep your contact list free of duplicates.  Even the organizations with full-time staffs are plagued with this problem.

In a past article, I wrote about DonorSnap’s live duplicate checking tool that will alert you to possible duplicates as you are entering new contacts.  Although a great tool (and DonorSnap is one of the few to incorporate this feature in their software), it doesn’t help in all cases.  Individuals with potentially two different last names or contacts loaded with import tools can still create duplicate records in the system.

Duplicates will always be a problem and your organization will always need to make a conscious effort to weed them out.  In DonorSnap there is a duplicates report that allows you to look for duplicates by names, emails and addresses.  Using mailing address can catch multiple contacts at the same household but has been of limited use.  The slightest variation in spelling, spacing or abbreviations in one address compared to the other will not trigger a potential duplicate flag.  West is not the same as W. and Avenue doesn’t match Ave. or street.  So most duplicate addresses were never caught.

Enter the new NCOA (National Change of Address) tool available free for all DonorSnap subscribers.  This tool compares your mailing addresses with those maintained by the United States Postal Service.  The traditional NCOA scan is used to highlight and update the address for individuals who have moved (hence the name National Change of Address – NCOA – for the database).  When run on your DonorSnap database, you will get the new addresses along with notes on invalid or potentially undeliverable addresses.

All good for cleaning up your mailing list, but how does that help the duplicate process?

One of the byproducts of an NCOA scrub is the ability to update all addresses to use the standardized USPS address (spelling, abbreviations, spacing).  Once run on your database, all of your addresses will use the same format, and the duplicate address report will show you all of the duplicates.  You can then review this report to find the duplicate contacts that need merging.

The NCOA database clean up is included for all DonorSnap clients and can be run annually. If you are interested in having your data scrubbed, contact the support folks at The entire process takes under an hour so you won’t have to wait long.

Protecting Your Donors’ Information on the Internet

Lately you’ve seen many news stories relating to data breaches and personal information being hacked, and you may be wondering, “How can I protect my nonprofit organization?” The advent of the internet world in many ways have been a blessing and a curse.  Data is now in a format that if accessed, can be copied in mere seconds.  However, accessing the data isn’t the only issue.  The nature of the data is what is most important.  So what information might be stored in your donor management software and what do data thieves want?

Name & Address: Although a good starting spot, this really is of little value to the thief.  Alone this information amounts to little more than folks could get out of the White pages (or nowadays

Donation History: Again, of little value.  Other than the obscure data analytics organizations such as Cambridge Analytics, this information doesn’t hold much value for a thief. Cambridge used all the information from Facebook to try and develop a profile of an individual to determine their politically leanings.  Once that was established, the information was used to target those folks with specific ads.  Social media is where the bulk of this information comes from and it is all being obtained with the approval of your vendor.

Phone Number/Email: Of little value.  This information is all over everyone’s social media accounts and readily sold by reputable organizations (Experian – yes the credit checking organization will sell you this information).

Credit Card Number/Bank Account and Routing: This is the jackpot.  With this information they can purchase items, do ACH withdrawals, etc.…   Hackers are in the business of making money for themselves.   To do so, they need to access information that can generate actual money.

Passwords: Hackers really like this information.  Why, because people tend to reuse the same password on all their sites.  The Yahoo breach years ago still lives on in the dark web as the user ID and password associated with the Yahoo accounts are still being sold for folks to try to exploit.

So how does DonorSnap and hopefully all online donor management software approach the security of your data?  First, we have controlled physical access to our data servers. You can’t just walk in to our hosting facility and plug in a flash drive. In addition, we use firewalls, scanning software and limit access to our database to only DonorSnap programs.  More importantly, through our terms of service, we do not allow the storage of driver’s license numbers, social security numbers, bank account numbers and credit card numbers.  Without this data, the overall risk to donors having their information being compromised is minimal.  If this information is not in your nonprofit organization’s database, then if your data is ever compromised, there is nothing of real value for the hacker to exploit.

So, with the precautions that your online donor management software has taken, there is still one big vulnerability.  It is your username and password.  Almost all data breaches are accomplished by accessing the data through approved channels.  Make sure you have a unique password for every user, inactivate all users when they leave your organization, and consider requiring password changes periodically. (OK we know almost no one likes to do this, but it really does help.  If you don’t follow this practice, at least use a password that is hard to guess and not used for your other internet accounts.)

So, if you take the above precautions, are you being a good steward of your donors’ information?


One of the oldest practices in the nonprofit world is the custom of copying a donor’s check to save along with the other donation information. It is easy to pass the check from the accounting department to the development department (or vice versa) so everyone knows what needs to be entered into the system.  There also is a feeling of comfort that by having a copy of the check, we can go back and correct errors or research data entry errors more easily. In days gone by these copies were stored in a file folder for that donor.  With the advent of the internet, they may still be in your paper file folder or they may now be scanned into your computer.

However, if one stops to think about it… the check represents a far more critical piece of information floating around in your office or computer than say a list of your donors and the amounts of their donations.  The check copy contains all the information needed to perpetrate identity theft and fraudulent activity.  It doesn’t take a computer genius to make up and pass fraudulent checks or do automatic ACH withdrawals from an individual’s account.  Having an accurate name, bank routing and bank account is really all you need.  This is the basis of the Nigerian oil minister scheme where they are reaching out to you to help them move excess money out of the country.  All they are requesting is your bank account and routing number.   Instead of finding a large windfall in your bank account, you find that your account has been drained through an automated withdrawal.

So, if you do want to keep copies of the checks, you should cover up the account and routing number on the bottom of the check prior to photocopying.  This now is a harmless document that has someone’s name, address and the amount the donated.  You owe it to your donors to protect their data!

Donor Fatigue – Fact or Fiction?

 “Donor fatigue” is when your organization’s donors lose interest in your organization over time, and it is accelerated by asking for donations too often.

 Over time every organization experiences the effect of long-term donors losing interest. This waning interest has more to do with human nature, but how does asking for money come into play? Thing of the work it takes to keep people engaged in a relationship over the longer term, and this is true of any relationship whether it be with a donor, a spouse, an employee or a friend. Relationships need to constantly be refreshed to avoid feeling taken for granted. It’s not necessarily the asking for money that causes donor fatigue, but if the ask is made poorly, it can help accelerate this process.

Monitoring your “asks” and their quality can minimize the donor fatigue effect.  Here are a few ideas with regards to your fundraising process that will improve the quality of your relationships and ultimately the amount of resources raised for your organization.

Don’t Be Desperate

Asking too often, too close together or with no regards for the past donations of an individual can make an organization seem desperate. Yes, you need to raise money to keep the doors open.  However, if your donors think your survival is in question, they may decide to use their resources for endeavors that will be around to bear fruit.  If you have a sudden event calling for immediate help, your base will understand.  However if you are always in immediate need of help, it gives the impression of an organization that is either mismanaged or not one supported by enough people to be successful in its mission.

Year-Round Plan

Plan your donor outreach activities for the year in advance.  Be conscious of how often you’ll be asking, and try to space those asks out logically according to your organization’s calendar.  If you do have asks that fall close together, make sure you have systems in place to either acknowledge that they have recently given or bypass the donor for an ask in that cycle.  Asking your donor for more money shortly after they just gave without acknowledging their recent gift will tell your donor that they are just another email address to be solicited.  You need to have a personal relationship with the donor. Know when they give, how much they give, and factor that into your yearly plan accordingly

Make your Ask Effective

A good ask is more of an art than a science. The ask should clearly show what the funds are going for and what they money will accomplish. An annual operations solicitation is ok, but doing that 4 times per year will get stale.  Instead, have a specific program or need in mind, and let the donor know their money will be accomplishing.  The more they can understand what their money will do, the more likely they will show their support and give donations.

Communicate with Donors When You Don’t need money

Carefully look at your interaction history with your donors.  Do you only reach out to them when you need money or support?  Most organizations do.  Instead, find ways to communicate or engage donors without asking for money.  Some organizations use news letters some use quick email updates.  Here is where you need to be creative.  Have you ever consider sending out a short 1-minute video in an email showing something interesting or heart warming happening at your organization?  Don’t ask for money just let them share in the good that is happening.

Treat your donors with respect and share with them using the avenues that they are most likely to see (snail mail, email, Facebook, etc.). They need to be a complete part of your organization and not just an ATM.

Track your Emails

Get into the details of your email campaigns and look to see who is and isn’t opening your emails.  Its easy to know that someone who has unsubscribed is no longer interested in your communications but what about the larger group that doesn’t unsubscribe but doesn’t even bother to open your emails.  Review these donors and try to determine if you need a better way to communicate with them or if they are possibly growing tired or your organization?  Maybe send them an individualized survey that doesn’t have a mass email look to see if you can solicit feed back on your organization.  You need to re-engage these folks if possible to keep them part of your team.

Donor relations is a never-ending process, and donor fatigue is a real issue that needs to be considered.  Larger organizations have the luxury of dedicating a full-time staff to communicate with, engage, and build up relationships with supporters.  Unfortunately, smaller organizations do not have the same privilege of a dedicated donor relations staff.  It often falls entirely on the Executive Director or key Board Members in small organizations.  Unfortunately, the process is the same for all organizations. Your organization needs to constantly monitor your donor relationship to make sure they are fresh and a benefit to both parties in the relationship.

One Organization’s Fundraising Event Experience and Evolution

Most organizations hold an annual fundraiser to supplement and augment their operating budget.  The nonprofit Malaika Early Learning Center that was started by my wife and I (and the genesis for DonorSnap) is no different.  Malaika started in 2003 and we held our first fundraiser in 2009.  We thought it might be of interest to share some numbers and chronology of our fundraising experience.

A Little about Malaika

The Malaika Early Learning Center is located on the near north side of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most people who have not lived in or visited Milwaukee do not realize that it is one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States, and has some of the harshest conditions for children. The area of Milwaukee we serve is typically in the top three nationwide for all the wrong reasons, including:

  • Teen birth rate
  • High school graduation (only 58 percent)
  • Incarceration rates (50 percent of males age 30-40)
  • Unemployment rate (57 percent for males)

The children in Milwaukee are confronted with these difficult realities from the time they are born. Our goal with Malaika Early Learning Center was (and is) to provide a safe and nurturing environment that has an academic focus of helping children from the ages of three months to eight years old. We aim to have them as emotionally, socially and academically balanced as possible to help them break free of the cycle of poverty that afflicts Milwaukee’s north side.

Fundraising initiatives with Malaika Early Learning Center

Malaika has a very clear, tangible goal that is quite worthy of support. As is the case with most nonprofit organizations, however, fundraising has always been challenging. With just 150 children who use our facility, we are too small to attract a significant amount of attention. We also deal with children of the youngest ages, which makes it difficult to demonstrate the program’s empirical results. After they leave us, it is hard to track where they go, as most of our children change households once or twice a year. (As you can see – we have all the built in excuses for why it is hard to raise money.  Probably the reality is the organization suffers from founders who are not good at asking for money and hope that people recognize the need and mission without being prodded).

As mentioned earlier we opened in 2003 and did not have our first event until 2009.  Up until that point we relied on foundations, founders and friend’s contributions.  In 2009, we decided we needed to have an event that we felt would be more of a Friend Raiser than a Fund Raiser.  The belief was that if exposed to our mission, people would recognize the need and ultimately become supporters.  Our goal was to expose people to Malaika more than it was to specifically raise money.

The results were, at best, mixed.  We did have a fairly well attended first event (150 people) but really didn’t do a good job of converting attendees to supporters.  This pattern continued for the next several years.  We would raise $30,000 at the event but expended a large amount of energy focusing on the event itself trying to attract people to attend.  We were not converting people into supporters.  Many were attending due to personal relationships with my wife, myself or our businesses.

Over the last several years, the focus has shifted slightly from being a Friend Raiser to a Fund Raiser.  We have focused more on the economics of the event (Sponsorship, Ticket Sales, Auction Items, Costs).  We still hoped the event would raise awareness of the organization and its mission but our focus became one of raising money to augment the budget.

An analysis of our fundraising successes (and failures)

Here is a quick recap of our last three years that you can use as a point of comparision:

2015 2016 2017
# paid attendees 136 146 120
Sponsorship  $13,695  $23,000  $24,500
Ticket Sales  $7,400  $13,775  $10,400
Paddle Raise  $17,650  $18,325  $32,850
Silent Auction  $19,808  $10,975  $-
Raffle  $-  $-  $5,050
Other  $1,950  $2,000  $2,000
 $60,503  $68,075  $74,800
Expenses  $11,780  $10,000  $8,000
Net  $48,723  $58,075  $66,800

As you can see, we have steadily increased the amount of net money raised over the last three years. The ultimate goal for the event is to raise $100,000.  That is the minimum amount of external funding that the organization needs for its basic budget.  Annually we raise $200,000 from all sources and hope to continue to do so.  However, the more we can raise thru the event, the less time and energy is required by our Executive Director to chase Foundation money.

Here is a little of what we have learned over the past couple of years:

  • Broadening attendee and donor base is critical: In the early years of the event, many of the Malaika’s donors were giving money out of friendship or business connection to my wife and I. That wasn’t good for the long-term health of the organization. As you can see by the attendance numbers, my wife and I pushed hard in 2015 & 2016 to get people to attend.  In 2017 we backed off and simply sent emails vs. personal calls.  The attendance dropped but hopefully the Board will pick-up the slack in the future and grow attendance amongst a broader base.
  • Paddle raise: 2015 was the first year we did the paddle raise, and it was a surprising success. This was an idea presented by our new Executive Director and was slightly uncomfortable for me.  Again, I don’t like to openly ask for money.  In hindsight, if our goal is to raise money we should have been doing this since the beginning.  In 2017 we added a different twist.  Even though attendance was lower, I emceed the paddle raise which helped form a more personal connection between the Donor’s, the Founder’s and the Organization.  In both 2016 and 2017 my wife and I offered to match all the paddle raises.  What helped in 2017 was people saw a direct connection with raising their paddle and Kellie and I donating more money.  It became fun for them to see how much they could make us donate.  In the end, Malaika was the winner. (The paddle raise numbers exclude our match).
  • Venue: In the early years we tried to focus on having an impressive venue that might attract more attendance. In 2017 we took a risk and move the event to our local baseball stadium club room (Miller Park).  We made it a casual, sports-themed evening. The feedback was great, as people loved the relaxed atmosphere and socialization opportunities. Logistically, the venue was easy to deal with, there was plenty of parking and we were able to complete setup more quickly.  Additionally, there really was no drop off in attendance due to the less prestigious venue.
  • Raffle: In 2017 we experimented with a raffle method to give away in kind donations as opposed to a silent auction. The setup time and work was probably about a third as much this year as it had been in the past. In 2017 we had 20 items in the raffle versus 70 in the silent auction in 2016. On the plus side:
    • People had more time to socialize, as they weren’t watching their silent auction items.
    • Setup was a breeze compared to prior years
    • We didn’t feel guilty selling a donated silent raffle item for half of its value.
    • Checkout was a breeze

On the minus side:

  • Some people were not happy that they couldn’t get the item that they set their sights on.  Chance determined the ultimate winner (you could increase your odds by stuffing more raffle tickets in that items box).
  • As you can see when combining the raffle and silent auction for the two years that we took in less $5,000 less in 2017 than 2016. People bought a certain amount of raffle tickets and then went back to socializing.  The raffle translated into more money raised per item but less money overall.  Even if we had the same number of items as 2016, I doubt our raffle sales would have been much more.

Where do we go from here:

As we assess this year’s event, we have several takeaways to consider moving forward:

  • We will probably reintroduce 20 to 30 silent auction items, but keep the raffle as well, slightly decreasing the number of raffle items. Combined  we think we will make more money
  • DonorSnap will experiment with an auction app for Malaika’s silent auction to allow folks the time to socialize and not have to hover over bid sheets. Current software offerings are too expensive to warrant being used for a silent auction that will only raise $10,000
  • We plan to go back to the same venue next year. The relaxed atmosphere greatly simplified the setup and cost of the event.
  • There will be a continued push to get Board members more engaged in the process of inviting people to the event. The sponsorship and ticket sales carry the event. The more people we can get into the room, the better.
  • One not so minor item is to move the bar location to be by the items being raffled or silent auctioned. People gravitate to the bar so that needs to be located where you want your people to be.

The event will be a constantly evolving work in progress.  However, now that we are firmly focused on raising money to support the school (sounds obvious now) we have a goal and a direction to help guide the Board’s efforts.

If you should have any questions about the economics of the event, feel free to email me at DMueller at DonorSnap dot com and I’ll share what I can.  As you can tell we are in no way professional fundraisers but are probably like many of you just trying to grind out what is needed to support your organization.


QuickBooks is NOT a Donor Management System

(Donor Management Software is NOT an Accounting System)

Many new and smaller organizations gravitate to QuickBooks to help keep track of the organizations finances.  The seemingly logical extension of this software is to use it to keep detailed records of donor activity.  Since you need to enter the donations into the accounting system, it only makes sense to keep all of your donor information there also.

Unfortunately, as an organization grows they realize the limit of QuickBooks when it comes to dealing with donors.  Although it is a great spot to keep track of specific donations, it does not provide a suitable platform for important tasks like:

  1. Sending out donation acknowledgment letters
  2. Organizing prospects who might give to your organization in the future
  3. Tracking communication activities with donors and prospective donors
  4. Managing pledges
  5. Collecting ancillary data for specific donors such as:
    • volunteering history
    • board membership
    • email preferences
    • custom criteria and groups

Most organizations first try to augment their QuickBooks data with Excel spreadsheets to help accomplish the other necessary functions.  This is when the real fun (or frustration) starts.  People move, divorce, marry, have children, give money under different names, change employers, and that is just the start.  Keeping accurate records of your donors and constituents in one database is hard enough.  Keeping that information in more than one spot becomes almost impossible.

At DonorSnap it is very customary to have an organization come to us that has 800 names in the QuickBooks records along with 3-4 years of giving history.  In addition to that, they also have an Excel spreadsheet or two that is their mailing list that they use to communicate events, newsletters, etc. with their constituents.  These spreadsheets will have anywhere from 1,000 – 3,000 contacts.  There is some cross over with the QuickBooks system, but in general each list will have contacts in it that are not present in the other.

When we get this information at DonorSnap, there is an arduous process of combining the various lists together to come up with one cohesive set of contacts that can be used for all aspects on donor management.  Prospects, donors, volunteers, members, etc. can easily be tracked in a donor management system. This makes it easy to build specific and targeted lists for mailings, invitations, and directed solicitation.  The actual gifts (monetary, in kind, or soft credits) can be tracked and historical analysis can be done.  You can easily produce one of the most important reports an organization can have – LYBUNT (donors that gave last year but not this year).  These things cannot be done with QuickBooks.

That being said, a donor management system does NOT replace an accounting system.  You need QuickBooks, or your chosen accounting software, to keep track of the organizations revenue and expenses.  Having accurate fiscal records is just as important as having accurate donor records.  The two systems complement each other. The only point of cross over between the two is the actual collected donations that you will be reporting to the IRS and other constituents looking at your financial statements.  These donations are ideally kept in detail in your donor management system with a batch (monthly or weekly) journal entry in QuickBooks of the total donations.  There is no legal or accounting need to keep the detailed donors in QuickBooks so long as you can produce the detailed report from your donor management software.  However, certain organizations get a sense of comfort by having the donation detail also in the general ledger.  For these organizations, many of the leading donor management software packages have integrations with both QuickBooks Online and QuickBooks Desktop (installed) versions that will allow automated transfer of donation detail.

Interested in learning more about DonorSnap? Visit today.

Is Social Media Necessary for Nonprofits?

Nonprofit organizations stand to gain a lot from the smart usage of social media. The key word here is “smart.” Not all nonprofits have a target audience that is going to be active across all social media networks. It is important for organizations to do some analysis of their likely donors. Try to determine how they prefer to interact with an organization, where they are most likely to be active online, and what the right approach is to reach out to them.

The other part of smart social media usage is to have SMART goals. You have probably heard it before, but your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time sensitive. Determine ahead of time what you want to accomplish, and develop your social media strategy specific to those goals.

If you need some help getting started with your goals, try thinking about things like the following:

  • Expanding your reach to new potential supporters such as the friends of your friends.
  • Increase engagement from the people that are already supporting your organization.
  • Increase donations by placing online donation forms in your social media pages
  • Developing a communications platform to increase awareness of your cause

Do not confuse those starting points with smart goals though. Every organization is different, so you will need to make these goals specific to your needs. Define them with numbers that you can track such as 1,000 visitors each month, or 5 new stories posted each week. Well written goals make it easier to come up with a great strategy for success.

Here is a quick overview of some of the most popular social media networks and ways to tell if they are good marketing avenues for your nonprofit:

  • Facebook is far and away the largest social media site on the internet. With nearly two billion active users, Facebook has the benefit of a gigantic range of users you can reach out to. Unlike many other social media sites, Facebook is not just a digital hangout for young people. Working professionals up through senior citizens are regularly active on the site. It also has plenty of options for sponsored content and different forms of media, including videos, images, and stories. Because of Facebook’s versatility and diversity of users, almost every nonprofit organization can benefit from having an active account there.
  • Twitter does not have nearly the diversity of users as Facebook; it skews a bit younger, though there is still a sizable audience of older people and working professionals. It also does not have quite the same versatility in terms of functionality. However, it is an outstanding place to interact with followers or to take part in large-scale conversations about topics related to your organization—perhaps more so than Facebook.
  • Instagram has become the most-used and most-loved social network of the younger generation. Millennials and the so-called Generation Z (born in the late 90s and after) have embraced Instagram for its simplicity and its propensity for self-expression. If you’re primarily using social media to find new donors, Instagram might not be your best bet, because it is a much younger audience. It doesn’t allow for as in-depth of content. However, its large user base and ease of use still make it an attractive outlet for organizations that have missions that align with the interests of a younger demographic.
  • LinkedIn is a professional network that tends to have an older, more business-centric audience than the other social media sites listed above. While it is a great platform to provide more information about your organization and to publish some informative articles, it is not necessarily an ideal platform for attracting new donors.

In general, nonprofits should always keep their target audience in mind. Social media can be a great tool depending on the kind of organization you are running, but ultimately you need to meet your audience where they are already likely to be. Learn to communicate with them in the method they most prefer.

Checking for Duplicate Contacts On the Fly

How to keep your database free from duplicates without slowing down.

The demise of all donor and contact management systems (or CRMs) is the creeping addition of duplicate contacts.  There are many sources for duplicate entries, but every organization is bound to have a few that stand out.

Does your organization ever have:

  • Volunteers who do not check if a contact already exists in your database?
  • Multiple connection points with a supporter (e.g. volunteer, donor, events, etc.)?
  • Individuals from one household interacting with your organization separately?
  • Limited time causing you to rush through data entry?
  • Perfect keyboard skills (a.k.a. have you ever made a typo)?

However they get into your system, they erode and undermine the value of your donor data.  Aside from being just plain embarrassing, duplicate contacts cause more work, create unnecessary costs, and negatively affect your donors’ perception of how valuable they are to your organization.

The costs are simple and often small on the surface, but don’t forget about the lasting consequences. First is the extra printing, mailing, and labor costs when you are sending identical communications to donors. The more devastating cost is the impression you leave with the Donor.

How many of your supporters have ever thought:

  • “If they really valued me – why wouldn’t they see that they are sending me the same letter twice?”
  • “Are they really a good steward of my donation?”
  • “Why not just address the appeal to To Whom it May Concern?”

In the past, best practices revolved around reviewing your database at least annually, but those timelines always seem to be a little too flexible. When it happens, this process merges duplicates, verifies email and mailing addresses, and removes bouncing email addresses. Those are still valid steps and should continue to be done, but what are you doing before those audits?

Preemptive action should be your main focus. The best way to avoid the introduction of duplicates is to use a system that automatically alerts you at the time of entry of a possible duplicate. We like to call that “dynamic duplicate checking.” As you enter the last name of the contact you are adding, a strong database system will be scanning all your existing contacts and suggesting possible duplicates.  This does not slow down the entry of new contacts but can alert you quickly if a duplicate exists and allow you to take action.

Below is a screen shot showing the Dynamic Duplicate Checking in process.  As the user types in the first few letters of Smith, the system displays all the possible duplicates for that contact in the system.  This scan is checking both the main contact name and in the case of two name households, the second contact name.  Paying attention to these potential duplicates should greatly reduce the errors in your system.

live duplicate checker

It is important to periodically ask yourself… do you value each of your supporters? Are you a good steward of their donations?

If your organization is not using dynamic duplicate checking today, you should contact your DonorSnap representative to learn more about this feature.  If you are not currently using DonorSnap, you can learn more information by emailing or by participating in a live demo: Register for a live DonorSnap demo.

What is the Difference Between a Campaign and an Appeal?

If you are looking at the best strategy to raise money for your organization, cause or event, you might have heard the terms “campaign” and “appeal” used seemingly interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between a campaign and appeal that you need to be aware of.

On a very broad level, a campaign is the reason why you are asking for or collecting money, while an appeal is how you asked for that money. For example, your organization might be asking for money so you can expand certain services you provide, or go on a mission trip. Whatever the reason is, that is at the root of your campaign. It is the ultimate goal or objective you have for your organization’s fundraising, and the vision that you are selling to your potential donors.

Most organizations have more than one method they use to attempt to raise the funds needed to complete their campaign. These methods are your “appeals.” Using different approaches for your appeals allows you to go back at the end of the year to analyze the effectiveness of your appeals and compare them to each other or appeals you made in previous years. If a campaign is a set of all the fundraising activities you perform to achieve a particular objective, your appeals are those individual fundraising activities.

For example, let’s say you have an annual fundraising event, a Summer Appeal letter and drive, and several other smaller appeals scheduled throughout your year. By analyzing these appeals and comparing them year-over-year, you can get a better sense of how much money you can expect to raise, or what types of tweaks you may need to perform to make your appeals more successful.

Additional Ways to Categorize Donations

Generally, most donor management systems allow you to assign various categories to each donation.  As we mentioned above you may want to use the Campaign and Appeal fields to help you run reports on your donations and compare from one year to the next.  You may also want to use categories codes for:

  • Donation Type (such as soft credit, in kind or regular donation)
  • Accounting Code (typically a fund code tied to your accounting records)
  • Payment Method (check/credit card/PayPal/etc.)

You may use any or all of these codes or none of them.  It depends on your organization and what you want to track.  For example, if your organization doesn’t record donations into different General Ledger accounts (something the accountants sometimes want) then there is no sense using the Accounting Code field.  Payment method can be used to reconcile deposits to your bank account from different sources (credit cards, PayPal, etc.).  Donation Type is especially useful if you want to track non-monetary donations (in kind).  It’s useful to know how much an individual or organization has contributed to your cause overall, but it’s important to know how much was in the form of money. This makes it clear what you can use for budgetary expenditures vs. material donations that are helpful in other ways.

DonorSnap provides all the aforementioned categories along with unlimited user defined fields. You are able to analyze and report on your contributions in any way that you need.  If you have specific questions on tracking donation information, contact a DonorSnap representative at

Common Problems that Could Damage Your Email Communications

(and How to Resolve Them)

Nonprofits across the nation continue to expand their use of email in communications with their donors and followers. However, many of these organizations are not aware of how many of their contacts never actually receive their messages, for a variety of reasons.

Below we outline a few of the most common problems that prevent your contacts from getting your messages, and how you can correct those issues.

Emails never getting opened

This is the equivalent of your letter or call to a contact going unanswered or unread.  If you consistently send information to an important donor and they do not open your messages, your communication with them is ineffective.  If they consistently don’t open your emails you may need to change your method of communication.  Maybe this particular contact prefers a phone call or a personal visit.  If they are critical to your mission, you need to reach out to them in a method they will respond to.

Getting caught in spam filters

 It is not unusual for newsletters or mass email messages to get caught in email spam filters. These filters are designed with the goal of reducing the amount of “junk” mail a person receives in their inbox. To get around a spam filter, you must first understand exactly how these filters identify what is and is not spam.

Typically, spam filters consider the following factors:

  • The recipient’s relationship with the person sending the message
  • The reputation of a particular IP address or sender domain
  • The quality and/or safety of the links included in the message
  • The quality of the subject line and content
  • The ratio of images to text and links to text

While there are many more factors that go into deciding what is considered spam, these are among the most common.

You will have a much easier time getting your messages around spam filters if you create high-quality content that doesn’t pack in too many links or images. This content should be professionally formatted (turn off your caps lock and avoid using too many exclamation points!), and should avoid spammy-sounding words and phrases. It also helps to only send messages to people who actively subscribed to your content. Using services such as Constant Contact or MailChimp can aide you in producing higher quality emails. They will review your email format and suggest ways to improve your chances of being delivered.

Bounced emails

There are several common reasons why emails bounce back, including non-existent email addresses, unavailable or overloaded servers, full mailboxes, and auto-responders or vacation responders.  This would be the equivalent of a return to sender in the days of regular mail. The intended recipient never even knew you tried to reach out to them.

Each of these problems has resolution strategies you should consider. For example, if the bounce was marked as a non-existent address, you should double check for typos. An “undeliverable” message might just mean you need to try again later when the server is back up or the inbox has cleared. An auto response or vacation response will likely provide you with instructions as to when you can reach the targeted person.

Email blocked by ISP

Internet service providers (ISPs) might decide to block emails from certain addresses if they look like spam, if they are sending messages to too many invalid email addresses or if there are technical problems with delivering the message.  This is the worst case scenario for an organization. Not only didn’t your message get delivered, you don’t even know that it wasn’t delivered. Similar to a letter sent to an old address that doesn’t have forwarding in place and you didn’t pay for return postage.  Fortunately, these problems are relatively easy to fix, as seen above.

There are tools that allow you to track the ultimate delivery of your email and whether that email was opened. When doing mass emails using systems such as Constant Contact, you can review the mailing and see which emails were bounced, blocked, never opened or opened multiple times. For specific emails such as Donation Acknowledgments, Pledge reminders and Annual Statements, having a tracking program linked to your emails will help you understand which emails are getting thru and which ones aren’t.

DonorSnap utilizes the latest software, SendGrid, with all of its outbound emails to give you the ability to track where the email is in the delivery process, if and how often it’s been opened and also provides the ability to resend a misplaced email. This will provide you with full control over the email process and, most importantly, let you know who is getting and who is reading your emails.

Remember – in the new age of electronic communication, you can’t assume that your message is getting through and read by your target audience.

Get Those Email Addresses


For those that haven’t noticed, the age of electronic communication is upon us in full force. Almost everyone has an email address and the younger generation tend to live on Facebook and messaging. Nonprofits have been slow to take advantage of this new medium and are now trying to play catch up. Many organizations with long established databases of contacts had not collected email addresses in the past and now need to play “Catch Up” to update their lists.

Organizations should take every opportunity to get this information whenever interacting with their constituents. The key is knowing who you have email addresses for and who you don’t. Depending on whether you use a Donor Management system or an Excel spreadsheet, you need to code it so you can easily identify people with missing information. Once you know what is missing, you can be on the lookout to add this information whenever possible.

One trick my nonprofit recently used (quite successfully) was to pre-code name tags for our annual event. As people either mailed or phoned in their registered for the event we maintained an Excel spreadsheet that was to be used to print out the name tags for the event. This Excel spreadsheet was cross checked against our Donor Database to see if we were missing critical pieces of information. We added a column on the spreadsheet that was either blank or contained “e”, “m” or “em”. The column was left blank if we had both their electronic and ground mailing addresses. If we were missing either or both we added an “e” to signify a missing email, an “m” for missing mailing address or “em” if both pieces of information were missing. (In the case of guests and people new to our organization registering for the event we almost always were missing both pieces of information.)


The day of the event, we printed out the name tags for all the registered attendees. The First and Last name were printed from the Excel spreadsheet using a large font. Then in a very small font in the bottom corner of the name tag we printed the “em” code in small print. The name tags were then laid out on the registration table in name order.

As guests arrived, we asked volunteer greeters at the registration desk to hand them their name tags. The volunteer would quickly look to see if there was a code on the lower corner of the tag or if it was blank. If there was nothing on the name tag the guest was simply greeted and given the event information. However, if there was a code on the bottom, the guest was asked if they would like to provide their email and/or address for our newsletter or future communications. If they said yes (and most did) we had clipboards with a brief information sheet for them to fill out. The greeter instructed what information we needed to be filled out and then collected the form from the guest before sending them on their way.

Our organization is also set up to collect this information directly into our database and could have done so the night of the event (rather than the intermediate step of having them write it on paper). We could have provided an iPad to the guest and asked them to enter the missing information. However, we opted not to take this approach in hopes of helping speed the guest along and not imposing on their evening any more than we had to.