Maximizing the ROI of Your Donor Database
An Interview with Jan Skapa of MainTask

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

If you’re like a lot of fundraisers, August is a time to catch your breath. Donor visits and other activities drop off as people head off on vacations, so this is a perfect time to evaluate one of your most valuable assets: your donor database.

We know that donor databases are the repository of your history and relationship with the donors that support your work. As the nonprofit sector has grown, data management and analysis has become much more sophisticated … and critical to fundraising success.

Jan SkapaTo understand how this technology is evolving, and why it matters, I interviewed IT and Salesforce expert Jan Skapa, CEO of MainTask.

I hope you enjoy this interview and walk away inspired to invest – even if it’s just more time – in this incredibly valuable resource!

Ann C. Fitzgerald
President, AC Fitzgerald




Q: What makes a donor database worth the investment?

I believe that keeping your organization focused is extremely important, especially when so much data is constantly floating around us nowadays. Databases are designed to capture and distill signal from noise, allowing you to run your operations with clarity – that is, if the database is well structured and managed.

A donor database, correctly done, leads to a significant increase in revenue and a decrease in costs. It enables you to make informed decisions about your fundraising or programs, ultimately making your donors happier. In the process, you gain a feeling of control. This feeling will allow you to focus on what truly matters, which is the mission and vision of your nonprofit or company.

Q: There are many donor databases to choose from. Why do you prefer Salesforce?

Simply put, Salesforce is the #1 CRM in the world. The Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP), a nonprofit package for Salesforce, turns it into an excellent fundraising and program management system built with a holistic view of every constituent.

Besides, the great thing is that you are not limited only to NPSP because Salesforce is highly extendable and customizable.

Many integrations and plugins (called “apps”) offer accounting, event management, emailing, direct mail, wealth screening, phone calls, and many other capabilities to plug directly into your Salesforce. MainTask can also build custom apps and functionality on the platform catering explicitly to your needs.

Lastly, Salesforce has a vibrant and growing ecosystem with detailed documentation and a great community, making it easy to maximize its use.

Q: What about small organizations – is there a downside to managing data in Excel?

There is a considerable downside to managing all data in spreadsheets. Even though it may work for a small organization for a limited time, it becomes unsustainable and unmanageable as the organization grows larger or as it matures.

Some issues with Excel are lack of efficient collaboration, no tracking of historical data and changes, or losing critical information as files get lost over time. The incompatibility of data sets across different spreadsheets makes it hard to run comprehensive or big-picture reports and dashboards. There are also many security risks associated with having sensitive data of constituents in unencrypted files that might be shared over the Internet.

Moreover, spreadsheets have no ready-made complex apps or integrations to enhance your workflows. Yes, you can write formulas, but can your spreadsheet automatically populate with incoming donations or send acknowledgments to donors? Probably not, but Salesforce can!

For small organizations, Salesforce offers ten free licenses to qualifying nonprofits, which means you get the state-of-the-art CRM software and platform for free, if you have no more than ten users.

Q: What are essential database considerations to guide successful fundraising programs?

Successful fundraising programs fully utilize the benefits of a platform like Salesforce. Organizations employ it as a tool to execute their strategy and to achieve a holistic view of donors through automated processes, functional dashboards, and various integrations. As a result, the touchpoints with your constituents are more tailored to the individual.

One of many essential considerations is your data model. A data model serves as a foundation for your database – and if the foundation doesn’t correspond with what you want to build, the whole system will fall apart. The data model must be constructed appropriately for the system to work to your benefit. For instance, data must flow in and out of your database uniformly and in predictable ways, while staying organized.

At MainTask, we have helped many organizations tackle these considerations.

Q: What steps should every organization take to ensure donor data is appropriately secure?

Salesforce has built-in features to keep your data secure. For example, Salesforce protects you from phishing and malware, has a robust security infrastructure, helps you run health checks and audits, and comes with solid encryption.

On top of that, organizations can set up email notifications when large data sets are exported to know when and where data is leaving their system. We also advise and help set up password managers, so users store and share sensitive information within a secure platform, as an added layer of protection.

Q: What are some of the organizations’ biggest mistakes with their database?

I think an organization’s biggest mistake is not using its database correctly or to its fullest extent, leading to frustration and missed opportunities. From a bird’s eye view, this could involve upper-level management underinvesting in their database, influencing their operations and potential ROI down the road.

Many organizations also assume the data in their database is too messy to fix. But it is never too late for an organization to improve their data and develop new processes to ensure data is enhanced and usable in the future! The phrase “what goes in, comes out” rings true even with Salesforce and other database systems. What your team puts into the system determines what you will get out of the system – start improving your inputs today.

There is no better time to consult with an expert, meet with your team, and fix your data structure than right now. A team-wide effort will ensure everyone learns what data is essential to capture and how to store such information.

Q: Where is the best place to start if your donor data is messy?

Rest assured, your organization isn’t the first to have data issues, and it won’t be the last. Start by consulting with your team – at every level – about what works and what doesn’t with your current database setup, and what improvements they’d like to make. Then determine the best way to achieve these improvements.

Can they be handled in-house? Do you need to appoint a couple of employees to take on the task of improving your data over the next quarter? Do you need outside expertise? There are many solutions, and it is not only doable, it is abundantly necessary, if you want your organization to thrive.

If you have a Salesforce question, feel free to consult MainTask.

If you have a question about accelerating your fundraising success, please contact AC Fitzgerald.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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