6 Assumptions About Online Giving, Data Health, and Integration – a ‘True/False’ Quiz

Apr 20, 2021

To say that online giving has come a long way in the past 20 years is like saying that cellphones have come a long way in the past 20 years. It is the mother of all understatements. While people still use their mobile devices to make phone calls and send text messages, that’s about where the similarities end.

The same is true for online giving. Online giving does not look the same today as it did when I was a healthcare annual giving director in 2001. For one thing, there are far more online giving providers – both the main reputable brands that every nonprofit has heard of as well as niche sites that focus on very specific subsectors. For another thing, as online technology has evolved and developed, so has the donor experience improved: donors now have a lot more choices in how and when they give and to which organizations. The ‘how’ and ‘when’ now includes leveraging those mobile devices (of course), text-to-give opportunities, and recurring giving options which make philanthropy ‘set it and forget it’. Finally, online giving is broader than it ever was. It now includes traditional donations, but also personal fundraising pages, peer-to-peer event support, tribute giving, charity event registrations, and donation add-ons when purchasing a membership, buying tickets, or even paying tuition electronically.

On top of all that, each year, more and more people choose to give online vs. offline, and that trend will continue. As older donors slow down offline giving, younger donors will only know online giving (‘please, explain what you mean by “write a check”. I’m not familiar with that term.’). This trend can be validated by our friends at the Blackbaud Institute:

‘In 2020, charitable giving in the United States grew by 2% based on a careful analysis of $40.7 billion in donations by the Blackbaud Institute. Additionally, an analysis of $3.2 billion in online donations tells us that online giving grew by 20.7% compared to 2019.’

Increase in Online Giving! That’s great, right?

Yes, that’s great, unless you are a nonprofit database admin. All of these changes and improvements have had a rather overwhelming effect on gift and related donor data – there’s so much more of it, and it takes all the more time to manage and maintain effectively. More and more, integration platforms are needed to handle the volume of records, and the amount of data on each record, to ensure the data remain healthy and actionable.

But people still do use their very high-tech mobile devices for the same things they did 20 years ago – to make phone calls. And people still do make charitable contributions for the same reasons they did 20 years ago (and 100 years ago) – because they want to support worthy missions, help make an impact, and feel good about being part of something that improves their perception of the world. However, because many more gifts come in online and because there’s more data associated with them, several of the aspects of online giving that haven’t changed continue to make life even more challenging for those who work with and care about the overall health of your nonprofit’s data. Here’s among the top six, presented in the style of a true/false quiz:

True or False:

1. Spouses talk to each other before donating to the same nonprofit

False. Not always, but often enough. Spouses make independent decisions on giving, but even when they discuss and agree on donations, both members of the couple may share the responsibility for making online gifts. That means that gifts to the same organization can come in from both spouses in the same household, with different email addresses and often different surnames. Data admins and managers have to be careful that gifts made by different spouses get properly attributed to the same household, with proper soft-credits, and that names, email addresses, and titles remain current.

2. Donors proofread their online forms

False. Not always, but often. People make simple mistakes in completing online forms, and some are less easily correctable than others. My uncle is notorious for entering all data in lower case ‘because it’s easier’, bless his heart. And then he’s miffed when an email or postal letter comes saluting him as Dear stan (vs. Stan).

But worse is this scenario – a longtime annual donor switches to giving online but mis-keys one letter in his email address. Here’s the snowball effect:

  • A duplicate record gets created because email addresses don’t match. Further, the duplicate record contains erroneous data because the email address is actually incorrect
  • The donor does not receive an acknowledgment because his email address is wrong, and the email acknowledgment bounces back
  • The donor’s gift history is understated because his most recent gift was posted to the duplicate record
  • The donor may get two solicitations during the next campaign, both likely in incorrect segments.

Long-story-short, database admins need to ensure they have tools that easily remediate the sins of their well-intentioned but error-prone pool of online donors

3. Altruism drives contributions

True, but. What’s the ‘but’? The ‘but’ is that on the opposite side of altruism is gratitude – gratitude shown by the recipient of the altruism. And the altruism may wane and eventually find another charitable outlet if the appreciation is not consistently forthcoming. In short, donors, however noble and philanthropic, want to be thanked for their gifts. Tactically speaking, that means getting the gifts entered/uploaded/imported into your main CRM quickly so that gift acknowledgments can also be processed as expediently as possible.  When you consider the number of steps and effort it takes to obtain gift transactions from your online donation systems, effectively enter the data into your main CRM, and then process the acknowledgments – time and automation become essential factors.

4. Donors want to know how their gifts were used

True. Now and forever. Stewardship communications with donors are just as important as solicitation communications, if not more so. That said, effective stewardship activities and programming should be predicated on having current, clean, and complete data upon which to base proper segmentation, event planning, and cogent, personalized messaging.

5. Donors care as much about their data as the nonprofits to which they donate

False; they care more. Here at Omatic, one of the key things that we provide and that our clients need is tools that improve and maintain data health as an imperative part of data integration. It’s things that we’ve already discussed but absolutely bear repeating – such as preventing duplicates, proper spelling and ‘casing’ of names, and ensuring that statuses and preferences are current.

Donors will stop giving – or think twice before making their next gift – when their personal data are not correct, especially if they’ve brought the issue to the nonprofit’s attention in the past and it was not rectified.

6. Data import tools are finicky and time-consuming

True. Native import tools are not the same as sophisticated integration solutions. Almost all require that you download a file which then needs to be uploaded. On top of that many require the downloaded file to be reformatted, columns be reordered or added, and/or that metadata be added. Some don’t have validation tools that can run preceding an import. Many don’t have sophisticated matching options, so certain records either get imported as duplicates or kicked out. And, for online donations in particular, import tools frequently require that new donor records be imported first, separately, before the gift transaction records can be brought in.

Organizations that receive a high volume of online gifts and other online data shouldn’t have to deal with such finicky tools. They need a sophisticated integration platform that leverages systems’ APIs wherever possible. They simply don’t have the time for utilities that require the level of manual effort that nobody felt was unreasonable 20 years ago, when online giving was low-volume and the gifts themselves were one-size-fits-all.

True: Improved donor experience = more data to manage

Among other things, the evolution of online giving over the past 20 years has proven that one size does not fit all – and that nonprofits have been most successful when they’ve embraced the breadth of options for donors that online giving provides. That has led to an equivalent breadth of systems and apps that nonprofits can use today for all the various flavors of online giving. These certainly further improve the donor experience, but also make for more data to be managed and integrated, so that fundraisers and other end-users can have current, clean, and complete donor information with which to work.

So, true or false: Nonprofit database admins still have their work cut out for them – both because of the facets of online giving that have been constant over the past 20 years, compounded by all the new-and-improved online giving apps (and corresponding data) that have come to life to improve the donor experience and, by extension, giving overall.

True, of course. And, that truth makes data integration far more important today than it was 20 years ago. Omatic can help. So grab your mobile device – which you still use to make phone calls – and call us (or email us, or click on the link below) to find out more.

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Stu Manewith, CFRE
Stu Manewith, CFRE joined Omatic Software six years ago and serves as the company’s Director of Thought Leadership and Advocacy. In that role, he is Omatic’s nonprofit sector domain specialist and subject-matter expert and is responsible for actively promoting and demonstrating Omatic’s position as the nonprofit industry’s leading partner in the areas of data health and integration. Prior to Omatic, Stu spent 13 years at Blackbaud, working with Raiser’s Edge, Financial Edge, and Blackbaud CRM client organizations as a consultant, solution architect, and practice manager. Previously, Stu spent the first half of his career as a nonprofit executive, fundraiser, and finance director, working in both the healthcare and arts/cultural arenas of the nonprofit sector. He holds business degrees from Washington University and the University of Wisconsin, and he earned his CFRE credential in 1999.