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 Sales@DonorSnap.com or by participating in a live demo: Register for a live DonorSnap demo.

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.

Cleaning Up Your Database

Whether you are looking to transfer your data into a new database or tidy up the one you already have, here are a few quick fixes that will make a world of difference in your reports and mailings.

1. Standardize your fields. Limit the number of free form Text fields in your database. Use Single or Multi-Select and Date fields when possible to help maintain a clean database. Before transferring data from a Text field to a select style field, be sure to standardize your look-up options by eliminating all but the correct version. For example, when using a text field to track your Accounting Codes, it is possible to end up with numerous variations and even misspellings for the same fund (i.e. GEN, General, Gnrl, Generl). Running an accurate report with so many variations of the same fund is next to impossible.

2. Use proper capitalization and spacing…particularly in your name fields. When you send out mailings, you do not want your current donors or potential donors to feel like you are yelling at them (Dear DICK) or simply do not give a rip (Dear      jane   mae). If your data is in Excel, utilize the Trim and Proper functions to quickly eliminate extra spacing and adequately capitalize your names.

3. Merge Duplicates. Check for duplicate contact records based on Name, Address, Email and even Phone. Once you are confident you have a match on your hands, combine the duplicate records, including any attached donations, notes, etc. into one. This can often be a laborious process but it will yield more accurate reporting results and can often cut mailing costs.

Help! I Inherited the Database From…

Frustrated
Image from Jon Watson

Can you relate to this scenario?

You just inherited a database(s) that is meant for you to track down donations, board members, visitors and everything else. Perhaps there are several files with repeated information or better yet, incomplete information. Sitting in the storage room are files of handwritten notes and check copies, none of which have been entered into a computer. Emails are going back and forth between you and other staff collecting bits and pieces of information making it a tracking nightmare.

So what do you do about when you are tasked with organizing your organizations database in a maze of information?

First, define a plan of attack.

Is the focus to improve on the database moving forward? Or is it necessary to change historical information.  A lot of organizations can just say “forget the past, I’m starting fresh tomorrow.” However, most cannot and they have a lot of cleanup to do.

Historical Data
Photo by Miri

How to Fix Historical Data.

First, don’t panic, move slowly through making manual changes. For fixing historical information, find the immediate priorities. Change only those that are needed right now.

Then when immediate needs are finished, start fixing historical information.

  • Edit anything in ALL CAPS.
  • Merge duplicates; researching duplicates that may be spouses. (DonorSnap provides many different duplicates reports as well as a Merge tool). Develop a standard of how to track spousal records moving forward.
  • Edit historical donations so comparative reports will be beneficial.
  • Inactivate deceased/inactive contacts.
  • Most nonprofits inactivate data entries after 3 years of no activity. Delete from the database after 7 years of no activity.

What is the purpose of the database?

Become familiar with the purpose(s) of the database; get acquainted with current donation programs — what mailings have gone out recently, what campaigns are running, talk to Accounting about their needs with running reports between the donor management system and their books.

Try this: Run a Donations Received report of the past checks, go back and change just those to the current and correct drop-downs, so the report is clear and concise.

Remove Duplicates
Photo by Ian Barbour

Get familiar with current database software.

Look at all the existing drop-downs for targeting contacts (how do you label a Contact as a volunteer or Board Member); how are donations categorized. If using a program like DonorSnap you can inactivate any non-relevant codes for appeals/campaigns/accounting codes (never deleting, you can always bring back if you have a question!). DonorSnap also allows you to HIDE (again, never deleting) entire fields that are no longer relevant.

Tip: Simplify the database to what codes you’re using now (and change historical information later, if needed).

Need to send an appeal mailing to the top donors?

Run a DonationStrata report (or other report that can give you Lifetime donations over a certain amount). Edit those contacts; Merge any duplicates ; make sure the mailing label for the contact is your current standard, and do a mailing.

Make a Cheat-Sheet.

Create a standard and cheat-sheet for all data-entry staff of what Codes to use for Contacts/Donations and a process for entering new contacts and adding donations. Create a mailing standard, how the names should be entered in the system and also how the mailing label should be addressed (in DonorSnap would be the Acknowledgement field).

Tip: Arrange a training with staff to go over the database procedures (they need to know this in case your out of the office)

 

The Power of an Authentic Thank You Letter

Growing up I would take yearly vacations to visit my grandmother in Texas. During these visits she would arrange visits with her friends and their grandchildren for play-dates. These arranged visits resulted in lunches, opportunities to swim in their pools and even excursions to amusement parks.  At the end of the day after each visit my grandmother would have me write a thank you letter for my experience. I started the task reluctantly as I didn’t see the point in writing thank you notes for play-dates. Once I took out the construction paper, crayons and markers I was able to remember the fun experience of the day and let that person know how they made an impact on me.

Today I take the task of writing a thank you letter to a different level. As someone who has worked with nonprofits for years I have donated my time, recruited volunteers, worked with underpaid staff who have given their all and have solicited donations. In each of these scenarios it all comes down to giving and the act of acknowledging the gifts.

How to Write an Authentic Thank You Letter:

1. Speak from the heart
Aside from thanking them for contributing to your organization, let them know how you feel personally about their contribution.

2. Include an image or photo of the impact of their gift.
If it is a donated object such as a toy or car, show them who or what is using it. Photographs and keepsakes are mementos that remind people why they give and will likely result in giving back more.

3. Have more than one person write the letter.
The best thank you notes I’ve ever gotten have been from classrooms of students whom each had a unique perspective on how I had impacted their lives. Create a group activity at the beginning of a board meeting, in a classroom or other gathering for participants to say thank you from their own point of view.

4. Send letters from the road.
If you are going on vacation or to a conference in an interesting city, take a list of your top donors and board members and send them postcards from the road. The art of sending postcards reminds people that you are thinking of them on your journey.

Those who support your organization do so because they believe in you and your work. In turn, it’s important for you to retain their support by acknowledging their gifts and time. Be sure to keep track of your correspondence in your donor management database.

Do you have a tip on a writing authentic thank you notes? Leave a comment and share it with us.

 

Is Your Nonprofit Prepared for Web 3.0?

Web 3.0? Give me a break! We just got a Facebook page up, what’s next?

First you needed a website. Did it take a while to get one up and running? Then you needed social media, that changes so rapidly it’s hard to keep up! You integrated a blog, that now you need to find people to write for it.

Do you really need to do more? 
Yes you do.

I’m writing this in the summer so you can start to put it into your budget for the next fiscal year. Let’s talk about what you need to do to be Web 3.0.

1. Get your website ready for mobile.

It’s not just that people are looking at your website from a smart phone, but they are starting on a laptop, moving to a tablet, onto a smart phone and back again. This means you have to design your site so it fits on all these devices. 

In order to do it on the Cheap-and-Easy, design your site in a WordPress or Drupal template that is mobile ready. The template description should tell you if it can be applied to smart phones and tablets. This way you only have to design once and it can be on the go.

For a few more bucks you can ask your web developer to make your site mobile ready. What this means is they write code that is wrapped around your site so that it looks good on any device. It’s like wrapping your site in plastic wrap. You see this often when you are looking at a site that starts with m.website.com. The “m” stands for mobile.

2. Make an App for your cause

This is an optional feature. Not everyone needs an app and if they don’t work well people will delete them.  If your organization is doing something that can invite people to take action, participate in an activity or is involved in an event that has a lot of information that you need on the fly, then an app would be good for you. Apps can be expensive, minimum $5000 up to $75,000 depending on the capability. You can also go with pro bono groups such as Code for America who make apps for good causes. You need a technical advisor to think about the type of App you want.

App options:

iOS – Anything Apple. Needs to be approved by Apple, takes 1 – 2 months to be completely approved and ready. Many people around the world have Apple products, broad market. Good thing is you design it once and it fits on all iPhones. Negative, it can be rejected, which puts you back in line to be approved.

Android – Most other smart phones (except Microsoft) are run on Android. The nice thing about designing for Android is you can put it in the App store immediately. Negative, since there re so many different types of Android phones, it doesn’t always look good on every phone.

Microsoft – Only runs on Microsoft smart phones.

Portable App – This basically is a website designed to function as an App. This is a great option if you want to design something cheaply that goes on every phone. Negative, you need to be connected to WiFi.

3. Preparing for .NGO

Your website most likely ends with a .ORG. Theoretically this means you are a “nonprofit organization.” Did you know that anyone who wants a .org can sign up for one even if they are not a 501c3. In 2014,  PIR.org, the agency that owns .ORG will be introducing .NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) and .ONG (Same as NGO but for latin languages.) The difference is you have to prove you are a .NGO before you can get the domain. This will be simple for US Based organizations that can prove 501c3 but more difficult for those around the globe that don’t have such a system set in place.

Why .NGO? The term “nonprofit” has a lot of klout in the US Market but not so much internationally. On a global level international governments and organizations understand the term NGO more than nonprofit. Adopting .NGO will be good especially if you plan to work internationally.

The other great things about .NGO is if you have an organization without a website they will give you to the tools to make it easy and cheap. To sign up for more information on .NGO click here for the Expression of Interest Form.

Alright, now you have some of the key elements you will need for Web 3.0. You can take these pointers back to your board or team to look at planning for 2014. Good luck!

Nonprofit Editorial Calendar: How to Make Your Content Strategy Easy and Engaging

To begin with, let’s define a few buzzwords.

Content: It is what you write in your blog, post Facebook page, tweet out, or send in an email.

Content Calendar: a plan for when and what you publish. It might contain other details like the SEO keywords you plan to use, ways you’ll publicize it, or even budget (if you pay for stock photos or advertising).

Screenshot of content calendar

At the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference (put on by NTEN), a bunch of us here at DonorSnap sat in on a few sessions on content marketing strategy, and learned how to leverage it effectively – to your nonprofit’s benefit.

On Friday afternoon, a few of us checked out the session “Air Traffic Control: How to Guide Your Content from Ideation, to Creation, to Publication.”

The presenters, Lauren Girargin, Marketing & Communications Consultant at LightBox Collaborative (@girardinl) and Betty Ray, Senior Blog Editor and Community Manager at The George Lucas Educational Foundation (@EdutopiaBetty) gave all of us gathered there a huge leg up in the content marketing game.

Betty called Edutopia’s content calendar a “Daily Flight Log” because they think of content curators as air traffic controllers, guiding the content. Pretty neat, right?

Here are some of their easy-actionable tips for being your own air traffic controller:

Consistency is key.

  • It’s fine to post to a blog every day or every week, or send a newsletter every month or every quarter.
  • Any schedule can work, as long as your readers expect it.
  • People don’t like to be surprised by more content than they expected, and if they don’t hear from you regularly, they might forget who you are.
  • Or, even worse, they might mark you as “Spam” in their email, which can get your email address blocked by Internet Service Providers.
  • Going off your schedule can even erode gains you’ve already made:
  • Neil Patel (of QuickSprout and KISSmetrics) said that when he skipped a month of his 4-5 posts/month schedule, he lost 21% of his site traffic. And it took 3 months of consistent blogging to get that traffic back. (Source)
  • Using an editorial calendar to think of topics before it’s time to share will make consistency second-nature – not stressful.

Be PROactive, not just reactive.

  • It’s great when you can capitalize on recent news or events for a timely blog post or email!
  • But, you can’t rely on that to happen frequently enough for consistent content.
  • (And remember, consistency is key).
  • So brainstorm content ideas (that aren’t tied to the news) in advance so you’ve got something ready…
  • ..and those reactive posts will get even more traffic (or emails will get more opens) when you do share them.
  • Plan content ahead on an editorial calendar, and take the time to create content you know your fans and supporters will love, no matter what’s going on in the news.

Track deadlines, and stick to ’em.

  • So you’ve figured out the schedule that works for you, and you’ve got great ideas on your content calendar.
  • You’re on your way to success!
  • But, that genius editorial calendar doesn’t do anything if you don’t use it.
  • Give yourself and other contributors deadlines, and put them on the calendar.
  • And, if you’re in charge, give other people fake deadlines that are before the real deadline.
  • Make sure staff know who to tell, and by when if they can’t get something done.
  • Keep track of everyone’s deadlines on your editorial calendar, and if someone falls behind, use the calendar to figure out what can be moved up to replace it.

You can even expand this to Facebook and Twitter – to an extent. Plan contests and questions to pump up audience interaction in advance, and make sure you know what you’re posting to all your social media outlets whenever you make a big announcement.

Editorial Calendar Resources:

At the end of the session, Lauren and Betty suggested a few resources to help you with your content strategy.

Every year, LightBox releases a free Google Drive editorial calendar template: bit.ly/LBCedcal2013

It has columns for a newsletter, social media, website, earned media, direct outreach, and “other”, any of which can be matched up with a “hook” – an idea you think your supporters will want to read about.

Trello and Asana are more robust systems – cloud-based project management software where you can assign tasks to different people, making it easy to keep track of how a piece of content is coming together.

Finally, if you use DonorSnap, you can integrate an editorial calendar right into your account using Keep&Share. Stay tuned for updates on additional capabilities for this integration.

Keep&Share Screen Shot
There are even to-do lists in Keep&Share, which you can link to inside your calendar.

You know, the new tool that schedules your ticker reminders? You’ve actually already got access to 6 more apps, including database tables, where it’s easy to create your own, unique version of LightBox’s calendar. (And you don’t have to sign up for anything new!)

Just share the table with anyone who’s contributing content, and they can get notified automatically by email whenever changes are made. You choose whether they can edit the table, or just view it.

Don’t hesitate to use the calendar for your content, too – try keeping track of those deadlines in the calendar, and set email or text reminders to stay on-schedule. And, if you’re collaborating with other people, you can overlay their calendars onto yours to see the big picture of how content is being developed.

You can do all this in your free Basic Keep&Share account that comes with DonorSnap. If you’d like to supervise other people’s calendars, create more than one calendar, or have access to other advanced features, consider upgrading to a business account – you and your team members can also have tightly-linked accounts with central control this way.

If you’d like these extra features, all nonprofits get a 30% discount on every transaction, and Keep&Share always gives you a 30-day, no-questions-asked money-back guarantee.

To learn more about your Keep&Share account (already part of your account), check out the website: KeepandShare.com