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CRMs and the costs of making mistakes in data

CRMs and the costs of making mistakes in data

I first met Chuck Longfield, Chief Scientist at Blackbaud Inc, at the Institute of Fundraising National Convention in 2010 in London.

He ran a session offering a variety of tips on making the most of data as part of the effective use of a CRM. So I spoke to him afterwards and invited him to share some of this guidance.


The cost of making mistakes in data

Longfield says that “it isn’t always obvious to people what the cost is of making a mistake”. Duplicate donor records is probably the most obvious cost where you are not only like to annoy and possibly lose donors due to duplicate communications, but you are incurring unnecessary costs for managing the data and paying for unnecessary communications, whether by email, phone or mail. This could also lead to inconsistent messaging, adds Longfield, because you might be treating a donor as a new donor when in fact they have been a long-time supporter.

“But donors actually perceive a lot about your organisation and the quality of your organisation through that communication”, said Longfield. “So when you send me two pieces of mail I’m actually inferring something about the type of organisation you are and the quality of the work that you do. “So that’s a second level sort of cost in the relationship”.

So he argues that it is very important to measure the cost of sending those two pieces of communication to the same person. Can you put a value on the long-term cost of that donor perceiving you differently?


The significance of typos

Longfield receives typos in direct mail from organisations. It could be his first name or last name.

But he has conducted analysis that shows that “donors are ten per cent less likely to give a donation and the donation is about ten per cent smaller when you make typos in their names”. So, he concludes, “there’s a very substantial effect, a cumulative effect of about 20 percent less when you make a typo”.

Of course, we all make mistakes he acknowledges. But he challenges charities: “does your organisation actually have a process in place by which you’re actually trying to find those mistakes and correct them?” At the very least you should test this phenomenon to see if it applies to your charity.

Appropriately enough, I am currently on the receiving end of two identical copies of updates from a fundraising sector training provider, one of which addresses me as ‘Howard’ and the other ‘Herbert’. Luckily, I’ve been called many variations on ‘Howard’, not least ‘Harold’, so ‘Herbert’ is a refreshingly new variant which currently makes me smile whenever I see it.


How to spot when a donor loves your organisation

Longfield urges fundraisers to look out for valuable hints that a supporter values your organisation. These hints are often in the softer data that you might pick up, beyond the recency, frequency, value data that you record. How can you tell the difference between two people who have given roughly the same amount and as often? Would you know if one truly values you and the other is more lukewarm towards you?

“Some of the work analysis that I’ve done”, says Longfield, “is that that there are people that are exposing little tidbits of their relationship with the organisation every day.” He gives an example: “if a donor calls to change their address they are many times more likely to actually go on and have a much deeper relationship with the organisation, giving a major gift or planned gift”.

It is the act of calling to to change their address on your CRM that is the key sign. “They’re actually saying to you: I don’t want you to lose track of me, which is a very powerful piece of information”. This is a “rich interaction where you and I are actually talking and you’re telling me something”.

Sometimes they tell you even more. When ringing to give you their new address they’ll add that your charity is their favourite organisation and they love what you do. Longfield asks: do you capture that comment or information as well in your CRM, or just the change of address?


More from Chuck Longfield

Here’s part of Chuck Longfield’s session at the (then) Institute of Fundraising’s Convention in 2010.




Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp and co-founder of Research massive growth in giving.

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