Avoid losing touch with your donors by conducting a census


A common dilemma facing nonprofits prior to the start of a capital campaign or planning study is an out-of-date database. Despite the fact that the database is among an organization’s most valuable fundraising tools, it often goes neglected with thoughts of updating it ignored until a large stack of “return to sender” surveys or letters arrives in the mailbox. Such an approach can prove costly, not only in lost postage and materials, but more importantly, lost contact with a nonprofit’s most valuable resource, its donors.

To avoid such a predicament, it is wise to take a periodic roll call of your supporters by conducting a donor census. A census allows you to take stock of who you are. It answers questions such as, who’s in and who’s out, who’s new to the group, and who wants to join. It gives you a clearer picture of your supporters and those you need to know better.

When conducting a donor census, consider collecting information such as: first and last name(s), address, city, state and zip. Be sure to allow space for phone numbers – cell and land line – and multiple email addresses. Religious organizations should also take stock of those who are registered members of the church and those who wish to join.

To collect the data, create a census template and mail it with a letter of explanation to your constituents. Follow up with the nonresponsive by recruiting volunteers to staff phone-a-thons. Churches may also take advantage of a captive audience by gathering information during services/Masses.

The United States Census Bureau is mandated by the Constitution to count every U.S. resident every 10 years. To keep your database campaign-ready, it is prudent for nonprofits to conduct a head count every three to five years. Doing so improves your ability to maintain better contact with your donors.

I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions regarding best practices and the professional services of the Steier Group.

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