Fundraising Principles For The New Universe: Database Depth

Institutions today are faced with a series of issues that fundamentally have changed our fundraising environment – it is a New Universe.  In my last article, I suggested that development offices need to diversify their institution’s income streams.

Today, I am offering the second principle that I believe is important if institutions are to thrive in the New Universe – Database Depth.

Database Depth doesn’t refer to increasing the number of records in your donor database or even implementing strategies to enhance the amount or types of data you collect on your donors (although both of these enhancements to your donor database would be helpful).  Instead, Database Depth refers to a philosophical approach to raising money, especially during campaigns.

Increasing Database Depth means that your approach to increasing your institutions charitable gift income will no longer revolve around identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding the top 5% of your donor database.  The number of those donors has dwindled considerably and the willingness of these donors to make mega-gifts has waned.

Therefore, institutions will need to dig deeper into their databases and find what I refer to as the the Silver Medalists.  These are the donors who rightly deserve a spot on the “award’s podium” during fundraising campaigns.  However, we typically have focused only on the Gold Medalists (the top 5%).  Over the past 20-25 years, we really didn’t need to focus much on other donors.  We would reach our gift income goals if we engaged the Gold Medalists well.

In the New Universe, though, we will need to re-think our strategies.  Here are three questions for you to consider:

  1. How can you regularly engage and strengthen relationships with the Silver Medalists – those major gift donors who make meaningful charitable gifts that are just under the highest levels at your institution?
  2. How will you adjust development staff and current position responsibilities to enhance your program’s capacity to build stronger relationships with these donors?
  3. And, perhaps most importantly, how might you develop thoughtful stewardship practices for these donors?

The donor pyramid is flattening.  Database Depth means that our institutions must have more donors with whom we are building strong relationships in order to achieve our charitable gifts income goals.  Building our development teams to meet this challenge should be a priority for every development leader.


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