How To Organize Your Donor List

Tom KellyAugust 30, 2016

How to Organize Your Donor List header image

No two donors are alike. Each donor has a special quality, experience, or pattern that is important. Keep notes on these details. When you organize your donor list into population segments based on similar criteria, it can lead to bigger and better donations.

When you segment your donors, you’ll be able to give each donation request letter or call for donations a personal touch. You’ll have filters in your list so that you have a better understanding of who is likely to donate what, when, and even why. Sometimes, the why is the most important feature.

In this article, we’ll guide you through four steps of organizing your donor list to improve your donor relationships and increase giving:

  1. Categorize Your Donors
  2. Create Your Donor Lists
  3. Organize Your Database
  4. Segment Your Donors

Categorize Your Donors

Your donors may fall into more than one category. That’s okay. You’ll define new ways to interact and engage them. Of course, this process takes time and effort. You can set up a spreadsheet to help iron out the similarities. For the donors who fall into more than one category, you’ll want to reach out to them in more than one way.

When it comes to communicating with your donors, hardly anyone wants a generic fundraising letter. Your donors want to feel needed and important to your organization. This is where good donor categorization comes into play. You can filter your donor lists to give each campaign a personal feel without writing individual letters to each person. Take a look at this example of a personalized letter:


I hope you’re doing well. I can’t wait to hear about your latest family adventures.


p.s. – We missed you at the fundraising dinner last year! Looking forward to our annual get together this fall. Let me know if I’ll see you there!


This letter was personalized based on the donor’s giving history. Now you just need to take the extra time to write a handwritten note to show that you remember the donor, and they are important to you. The more personalized the letter, the more likely you are to receive a quality donation.

This is why segmenting donors into specific database categories is worth the effort in the long run. And though it takes some time, there are ways to automate the process of segmentation with a nonprofit CRM.


Create Your Donor Lists

Your lists will give you several variations so that when you go to make a request for a new campaign, you won’t waste your time sending a campaign to someone who will never donate for that purpose.

Here are some donor categories you can use to organize your contacts:

  • Email Solicitation
  • Social Media Campaigns
  • Snail Mail (Direct Mail)
  • Major Gift Donors
  • In-Kind Donors
  • Small Gift Donors
  • Monthly Gifters
  • Annual Gifter
  • Once Every Few Years
  • Local Donor
  • Web Donor

A good place to start is with your existing contacts such as staff, donors, volunteers, vendors, and anyone connected to your organization. If you have a way of connecting with them, they should be in your donor database.

If you have email subscriptions from your website, you probably don’t have the information needed to segment this list into categories. Start with the subscriber list. As they respond to your campaigns, even if it is just by opening the email, you will be able to add that information to your database as you learn it.

Be careful to pick and choose wisely as you create your donor lists. The same contact may fall into many categories. You don’t want to inundate them with what they may consider annoying junk mail (spam) or over ask when they’ve given all they can, or under ask, where there is more where that came from.

Creating donor lists can help you avoid contact attrition. Pay attention to your donors or potential donor’s patterns.


Organize Your Database

When it comes to organizing your donor database, you can filter your contacts and donors using these four steps.

1. Filter by your contacts’ primary category first.

  • Most Recent Donors
  • Average Donation
  • Lifetime Donations
  • Seasonal Giving History
  • Avid Email Opener, Yet to Give
  • Donation Frequency

2. Filter by demographic:

  • Income
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Location

This is also a good section to add notes based on your relationship with the donor. For example, if you meet for brunch, add the when, where, and why. Also, add in any personal family history that they may have shared with you. You can use these relational notes in future correspondence to personalize it even more.

3. Filter by communication response:

  • Social Media
  • Personal Phone Ask
  • In-Person Meet Up
  • Email/Newsletter
  • Small Gift for Donation

4. Filter by category of giving:

  • Hand-delivered Donation with Cash, Check, or Money Order
  • Check in the Mail
  • Credit Card Donation (online or over the phone)
  • PayPal

Know your donor list. Know its history. Learn and adapt based on this information. Edit the information regularly, and keep the records up to date. Make sure you keep their contact information up-to-date, including addresses, phone, email. This is critical. If your donor moves to a new city, this will impact their giving patterns. As soon as information changes, edit it in the database.


Segment Your Donors To Improve Fundraising Effectiveness

Once you’ve filtered out the bad leads and found the best possible donor, a loyal friend to your organization, learn from this relationship. Keeping up-to-date notes in your database will improve your odds of receiving donations. Nurturing this relationship will help you understand the giving (or non-giving) patterns of the people in your donor list. Don’t waste time on a dead lead. Focus on other records with similarities to this loyal donor to improve your fundraising effectiveness.

Schedule a live demo with our partner Bloomerang, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.

Filed Under:   Donor Management