During an online fundraising seminar I was presenting, we were on the topic of email addresses. I always advise folks to pay attention to their email “bounces” – when an email address is found to be bad and your email can’t be delivered.

One of the seminar attendees shared that she had a LOT of data issues in her donor database – duplicates, outdated contact information, etc. All of that data needed cleaning up before she could tackle the bounces in her email database. It was overwhelming, so she was not taking any action. That’s when it occurred to me that ignoring that data was like ignoring debt – it doesn’t get better it just gets worse!

Data issues, like debt, continue to pile up unless tackled head on.

You’re busy – and how important is that email bounce data anyway? Well, what if, hidden in that email bounce data is the email address of a major donor – or two? What if that person has not heard from you in weeks or months because they changed their email address and thought they told you? Or better yet, they setup an auto reply in their old email box, but your emails come from a “do not reply” address so that message never came back to you. New or casual email subscribers and online donors can take that as marked disinterest.

If you are not on top of your data you could be harming good relationships with your donors. Online fundraising continues to grow every year and at some point I believe it is destined to overtake giving via direct mail, so paying attention to email addresses is critical.

Your organization can get on top of tasks like reviewing email address bounces. This can be a good task for a volunteer or intern with a little basic training on running searches in your databases. The data on email bounces is pulled from your email system. In your donor or other databases, you then do a search for folks who bounced. First look for an alternative email address – someone may have gotten the new one and just didn’t remove the old one. For those that you don’t have alternative email address, consider creating a postcard you can mass mail to say “We are updating our records and would love to stay in touch – return this postcard, go online or call us today!”. After a month, for those you don’t hear from, you might even call folks whose phone numbers you have. If they say no or don’t return the card, that’s fine, people’s interests change.

Walk away andreasnilsson1976An excellent practice is to keep a spreadsheet with the names of folks that bounced and you did not hear from after the postcard and/or phone call. Review the list of major donors every year or 6 months and compare it to that list. If you find a major donor, you might want to dig around in other files or in your network to see if you have a secondary way to contact that person, saying that “I’d like to keep in touch, feel free to email or call me” and leave it at that.

Don’t let valuable email subscribers and donors walk away feeling forgotten. Mine that data, keep them engaged so they might give another day!


(Flickr photos TheEyeofNewYork; andreasnilsson1976)

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