Data Investment Can Solve the Mystery of Your Missing Donors

Becca WidmerSenior ConsultantDecember 1, 2022
Cell-phone append results: image of a girl in a detective hat holding up a magnifying glass.
Appending cell phone data can help you track down donors who disappeared but still want to give.

‘Tis the season of good will, generosity, and joy. For nonprofits and fundraisers it is also the season of anxiously watching calendar year-end appeal results, benchmarks, and KPI’s. How things look when the clock strikes midnight on 12/31 is critical to your spring fundraising plans, key adjustments, and projection, not to mention next year and long-term goal setting. Experienced fundraisers already know this.

What you might not know as you look at your donor counts is that you may have a mystery on your hands. This applies to all donor audiences, but one key group I’ve seen this impact greatly: your 2-4 year lapsed donors. It’s a common question I confront with RNL partners: why does this group of intermittent donors with a track record of giving suddenly go missing without a trace? Nothing has changed in your carefully built outreach plan or the important mission of your organization, so why the disappearance? More importantly, how do we stop it?

The mystery of missing SYBUNT and lapsed donors might actually be missing data

To invoke Sherlock Holmes, the answer is elementary my dear fundraisers—data integrity and contact decay. Simply put, the reason they stopped giving is not you, it’s them. They’ve moved, switched emails, dropped a landline, and have not updated info with you. It’s not that they stopped wanting to give—they just stopped getting asked.

Marketing research tells us that about one-third of American contact data decays each year. When looking at phone numbers, households with a landline have plummeted from more than 90% in 2004 to 37% in 2021. And for those who have a land line, we know that less than half actually use them. Those numbers will certainly continue to drop.

Here’s the missing donor mystery’s solution: data enrichment

Now that we’ve got all the clues and understand the reason for our disappearing donors, it’s time for the best part of any mystery—the solution reveal. In this case our answer is data enrichment.

At RNL, we’ve conducted hundreds of data append projects for higher education and other nonprofits across the country. I can definitively tell you that for a small investment in updated contact info, you can reap huge results. More importantly, you will resume conversations and relationships with donors who will build your pipeline and support your mission for years to come.

The stats on data investment make it a prime suspect for increased ROI on your donor engagement.

The numbers speak for themselves. Here’s what I found when I dug into the the fiscal 2022 investment across all RNL clients:

  • 1,498,242 records loaded into cell append research segments for our digital engagement centers.
  • 178,000 calls made with 105,208 conversations with prior or potential donors—a 58.8% contact rate).
  • $2,067,964 total dollars pledged.
  • $662,806 of those pledged immediately fulfilled on credit cards.

Fellow detective, allow me to remind you that these conversations were previously impossible because the contact info had either been lost or wasn’t the best way to reach a donor anymore. The other great thing about this research is that you’re not just getting a list of numbers that could possibly be correct. Instead, we are actually calling these numbers and confirming that the numbers are accurate so you can update your database. Even if the donor didn’t commit or make a gift at this time, you’ve got a good number to use next time and a great starting point to update other information for them as well.

The investment in data goes beyond a single channel of donor outreach

Cue the Columbo voice: “Just one more thing.” When your cell numbers are updated, you now have the ability to do text outreach to these records, increasing the chances of giving in the future. This is one more point to a successful omnichannel approach.

You may be saying, “This all sounds great, Nancy Drew, but how would it work specifically for me?” Here’s just one example:

Cell phone append results for one flagship public university

At one flagship public university the team decided to invest in cell append across LYBUNTs, SYBUNTs, longer-lapsed donors, and future donors. They saw phenomenal results across the board compared to the control groups whose cell phone data they did not append. The results were particularly strong for the lapsed and future donor groups.

Lapsed donor group results after cell phone append:

  • 69.3% contact rate
  • 112 additional pledges
  • $16,010 pledged

Future donor population after cell phone append:

  • 64.4% contact rate (compared to 49% for non-appended control group)
  • 850 confirmed data updates
  • 226 pledges
  • $29,195 pledged

You don’t have to be Jessica Fletcher to know that 200+ additional donors on your list is going to have immediate impact on participation and long term impact on the overall health of your donor pipeline. This really questions some of the assumptions we have about the cost of new donor acquisition, when we see that researched contact information in a non-donor population performs strongly. We have givers out there ready to start, we’re just not reaching them.

The case clincher: ROI on Cell Append Research was nearly 15:1

The combined ROI of this research in actual dollars raised is 1,468%. This particular institution saw fifteen times their money with a data investment. When it comes to retention, reactivation, and acquisition there are many things out of our control, but finding and updating good contact data is not one of them.

Losing or missing out on a donor because we couldn’t reach them is entirely preventable and you don’t need Sherlock, Kojak, or even Steve from Blue’s Clues to figure that out. With help from RNL, you can consider this case closed. Reach out to set up a complimentary consultation and we’ll help you track down those disappearing donors who are ready to give again.

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About the Author

Becca Widmer

As senior consultant, Becca is focused on providing strategic consultation and critical insights to help your program innovate and succeed. She is responsible for providing guidance for overall fundraising program strategy and delivery and is...

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