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Don't Ignore Them: Who are all those non-donors in your database?

Non-donors are in every database. The organization may have been given a list from a board member who wanted their friends, family, or professional colleagues to receive the organization’s newsletter or special event invitations. The person may have called and asked to be on the mailing list. The organization may have had a booth at a community event and the individual filled out an information form. Some of the non-donors may be previous clients or vendors. The organization’s staff may have added people they thought should receive the organization’s communications. All of these reasons are very normal and explain why the non-donors have come to reside in the organization’s database.

Over time the organization has probably sent the non-donors numerous communications by both snail mail and email; and they have not responded. In fact, they probably will not unless the organization creates a deliberate plan to engage them. Asking the non-donors for a charitable donation, even with the best story in your arsenal, may not work. You might garner a few donations, but will it be worth the time and expense. Keep in mind that these individuals have not previously responded.

Before deleting all the non-donor names out of your database or deciding to ignore them, there are a couple of things you can do. The key is to first understand the scope of the problem you are dealing with. Run a query on your database and find out how many non-donors are in the database. Only focus on individuals. The reality is that most non-donors in your database will be individuals. The suggestions that follow can be applied to any group of non-donor constituents in your database.

What is their source?

Your first task is to understand where the non-donors came from. Hopefully, not some obscure list or something like the local Elks Club membership directory. What is their source? Almost all donor management / CRM applications have a field for the source code. You want to begin by segmenting the non-donors by their source code. The source codes can include items such as: the board member; the community event where they filled out the form; or an event they attended as a guest of a donor.

Then you want to know how many donors fall into a particular source code. If you have a few source codes with only one or two people attached to the code, then you need to determine the importance of the source code. Is that source code relevant to your organization at this time? If it isn’t, then merge all those barely used source codes into a code labeled as miscellaneous source.

Have they been in the database very long?

The next task is to determine how long the names within a source code have been in the database. Again most software applications will have a created date for each record. If an individual has been in your database for five or more years and no one on the staff or board identifies with the source or the person attached to the source code, then you will want to delete them from your database. Seriously, why would you keep them? They have not engaged in five or more years and no one at the organization knows them. Spending the time and money to send them one more communication seems pointless.

If the non-donors have been in your database for less than five years and the staff or board can identify with the source, then create activities to cultivate them. Activities to consider could be: an invitation for a tour; breakfast with the Executive Director; or personal calls from board members. The key is to make it personal. Up to this point, these non-donors have been just names on a list. Even inviting them to breakfast with the Executive Director should include a follow-up call after the invitation is mailed.

If your list is too large and making calls is not reasonable, despite the cost of a mailing, it may be the only path you can take. The mailing will need a very poignant story that explains how what the organization does impacts the community and the donor. The letter should have a hand-written signature and note from a board member. Again, try to make it as personal as possible. You want the non-donor to feel that they really can make a difference.

Keep your database clean!

What you need to decide, is it worth the time and cost to convert non-donors into donors? Are they really prospective donors or just names gathered over time?

If you do not have a plan to manage non-donors, they will continue to be a cost to your organization rather than a source of support for your mission. This is a lot like cleaning out your closet, if you have something you have never used, then do something with it or get rid of it.

One additional step that should be done in conjunction with trying to engage non-donors in your database is to diligently pursue strategies to manage non-donor names that are continually added to your database going forward. Send them a short story about the organization’s impact on the community and a survey asking if they would like to receive communications from the organization and what is their preferred means of receiving communications. If they are not interested, immediately delete them from your database. This is a good first step and will help keep your database clean and truly being a donor management system.

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