Being Smart about Data

by Jini Stolk

I’ve been planning to write about one of Creative Trust’s final projects: a partnership started in November of last year with Neighbourhood Arts Network and CPAMO to provide two workshop series on databases here in Toronto and one session last week in Ottawa. Smart Data – A Workshop Series designed for artists and arts organizations, was initiated by Creative Trust and delivered by Young Associates, with support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

At the start of Creative Trust’s Audiences Project in 2009, it quickly became obvious that many companies’ inadequate database and box office systems had become a major barrier to progress on engaging and developing their audiences. We therefore began the Audiences Project with a two-year Database/ Systems component, helping companies improve and upgrade their system, providing a solid base for future learning.

The problem remains serious for a surprisingly large number of performing arts organizations. Today, having read a series in SOFII (the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) on How We’re Losing Donors by Jay Love , I would describe it as urgent. According to detailed research from the United States, accompanied by some easy to understand graphics, nonprofits – including most of us, who rely on donor support for a portion of our operating budgets – are bad and getting worse at retaining donors. Most of this (avoidable) loss, according to the study, is the result of inadequate communication processes and messages.

The following add up to 53 per cent of the reasons why donors stop giving: they thought charity did not need them (5%); received no information on how monies were used (8%); had no memory of supporting (9%); were never thanked for donating (13%); received poor service or communication (18%).

It’s enough to make you cry, and if anyone thinks that arts organizations in Canada are too savvy to make these mistakes, I can personally affirm that that’s not the case.

Love asks us to imagine what a solid communication plan built upon a professional and carefully planned  Customer Relationship Management/database solution could do for each item above. Since loyalty is based on strong relationships and relationships grow through engaging and regular communications – experience shows that improvements in this area can provide huge surges in loyalty and giving.

“Repeat donors matter most.” But we are terrible at keeping them. The good news, he says, is that we could double the fundraising results of most nonprofits by doing a better job of keeping our donors.

I’m fired up about this topic, and will write more about the Smart Data sessions and the transformational potential of maintaining good data, and using it well.

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