Today’s guest post is from Neon One’s Tim Sarrantonio. He’s a fundraiser, a database whiz, and regular conference speaker. A more complete bio comes after this article. You can see his most recent thoughts GIFs on Twitter @midwesttgs

Tim Sarrantonio from Neon One

How to use data to build authentic relationships with prospects

by Tim Sarrantonio, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Neon One

Data is everywhere nowadays. We’re constantly being told to focus on data, to live in the data, to respect the data in order to power our fundraising. Yet the reality is that data will never replace the core tenets of fundraising – building an authentic connection between your mission and the donor.

However, data can be extremely powerful when used strategically to inform your priorities and decision making. This is especially true when engaging with your major donor prospects, since a piece of vital data could mean the difference between finally making that meaningful connection or prematurely setting up a lunch that leads to an awkward rejection.

With some many data sources, it can be hard for an organization to concentrate. One of the best places to begin with is your existing database of record and then utilize data appending services to optimize your prospect profiles.

Why data needs to inform strategy

Your organization’s staff are going to approach their day to day in different ways, depending on how they are hardwired for solicitations. Some folks will dive right in and pick up the phone to engage while others will want to be more methodical and have as much information as possible before engagement.

Yet no matter how someone is approaching the actual donor engagement process, data is going to make things more effective and impactful. Being able to reference previous giving history, relationships, notes from events, as well as using prospect data to steer them toward your goals for the relationship will be a powerful usage of your time.

How data helps tell the full story

The average nonprofit juggles data in a minimum of three to five data sources when it comes to understanding who a donor is. Having disjointed data means that you won’t be able to understand the donor’s full role in helping you tell your organization’s story. It would be like having several chapters of a book ripped out or located in different areas of your library!

Being able to centralize the donor’s primary profile information into a database of record, or nonprofit constituent relationship management system, is going to be key for your success. Notes, interactions, activities, and previous giving history can all be found in one place without having to hunt for it.

Who’s Who in your data

Yet the data you have control over collecting isn’t enough. Sometimes your organization will need to take things a step further to round out the fullness of your donor’s potential relationship with your mission. A key way to do this is through prospect research data appends, which find information that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to obtain on your own.

There is a healthy trend toward making this wealth and prospect data be easily connected to your database of record, thereby creating a full profile of both information you have direct control over as well as data to help inform areas that were otherwise unclear.

When to leverage prospect data

There is both an art and science around knowing when to utilize prospect data appends in actual conversations with donors. You will want to sound knowledgeable and curious without bordering on creepy. Some key items to keep in mind:

  • Folks in the US are generally uncomfortable talking directly about their wealth and unprompted references may cause more harm than good
  • Approach data appends like an investigative journalist, using a verification approach to confirm. For example, if you are aware of previous giving history to other nonprofits like yours then set the stage by asking probing questions to get personal confirmation
  • Use data obtained from prospecting to guide the conversation, not be the conversation. Think of the data as the basis for the story you are telling alongside of the donor, but always let the actual interactions you have be your primary focus of action

What to do next

Data is not a silver bullet that will solve your retention or acquisition issues. Your organization should be building authentic relationships with donors and data can help organize our thoughts around how and who to engage with. Yet if you have not established a solid why, then all the data in the world will not help you.

The red thread of your actions needs to always come back to your mission. Once that has been established then your ability to act on data will become that much easier.



BIO: Tim Sarrantonio is a team member at Neon One and has more than 10 years of experience working for and volunteering with nonprofits.Tim has raised over $3 million for various causes, engaged and enhanced databases of all sizes, procured multiple successful grants, and formulated engaging communications and fundraising campaigns for several nonprofits. He has presented at international conferences and is a TEDx speaker on technology and philanthropy. He volunteers heavily in his home Niskayuna, NY. Did you know that Marc A. Pitman is a Neon One Certified Consultant? He helps clients utilize our nonprofit database, NeonCRM – learn more about our software today!

21 Ways for Board Members to Engage with their Nonprofit's Fundraising book image

You'll discover the 21 ways each board member can help their nonprofit's fundraising - even if they don't like to ask for money!

As a bonus, you'll get free fundraising tips every other week too!

Help your board fundraise for nonprofit with this FREE ebook

We take your privacy very seriously and will never sell, rent, or share your email address.