Why Investments in Supplemental Data Appends are Investments in the Sustainable Success of Your Development Program


Supplemental data is available for just about anything you might want or need – from age, household income, and marital status, to email addresses, cell phone numbers, and places of employment. Such data not only help ensure that you keep in touch with your prospects and donors, but also provide valuable insights, and indicators of philanthropic inclination and potential that can be used along with your own internal constituent data to gauge affinity, identify upgrade opportunities, and develop your own in-house segmentation strategies.

We’re in what a colleague and co-founder of an industry-leading online consumer behavioral data compilation company recently referred to as “the third-generation of contact information and data appends.” We’ve gone from relatively reactive National Change of Address updates to proactive solutions that not only help you locate “lost” prospects and donors, but also gain a better understanding of who they are, where their interests lie, and how best to get ahold of them so you can build deeper, more meaningful relationships, and increase engagement.

The new wave of supplemental data aggregators gather data from, among many other sources, utility companies, which tend to have the most current contact information on record. Such vendors can also provide you with customized deliverables based on the specific needs of your development program and aimed at filling in the “holes” that exist in your donor database, whether you’re preparing for a database conversion or simply conducting an overhaul on the quality and accuracy of the data in your existing donor database – the latter being what my colleague calls a “data health check.”

Some form of data enrichment should be done on an annual basis regardless of whether or not you’re preparing for a conversion. And if you are, then you should always have a solid plan complete with protocols for cleaning and enriching data before it’s transferred to the new database. I know it seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked, deprioritized, or considered a pesky expense. In the end, though, what’s really a pesky expense is all that money your program spent on postage last fiscal year sending mailings to prospects who no longer live at the address you have on record or would never open a piece of mail that’s not on a screen.

That’s why it’s imperative that advancement services view regular supplemental data acquisition as a strategic, capital investment in prospect intelligence and in the sustainable success of your development program. The need for regular investment in up-to-date contact information alone is more essential to the success of your development program than ever before – especially when you consider that individuals are moving and changing jobs far more frequently than in decades past. According to one recent study specific to higher education, 36 percent of contact information goes stale each year. That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of it. After all, smart decisions lead to smart outcomes.

Besides, data enrichment doesn’t have to be a tedious affair. There are a lot of exciting things you can do with new supplemental data, such as in-house message testing and employment of new segmentation strategies. Supplemental data appends are an especially great option if you have a tight budget and a small prospect research and development staff, and you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to segment certain populations within the prospect pool without shelling out five figures for a third-party predictive modeling engagement.

Take using supplemental, household-level demographic and market research data to identify likely upgrade opportunities within the context of a recurring or annual giving program, for example. Start with the dollar amount of a recurring donor’s most recent gift; overlay that with supplemental household-level demographic data such as income, age, marital status, and presence of children in the home, and supplemental market research data that indicates whether the donor falls into a highly philanthropic segment of the market; and finally, look at whether the prospect’s past giving behavior demonstrates an upward trend.

Generally, if the donor’s annual income is $150,000 or more, age is 40 years or older and he or she is married, falls into a highly philanthropic market cohort, and has demonstrated consistent, upward-trending past giving behavior, then you’ve identified a viable upgrade opportunity. Get creative and have some fun with it. Just be sure the address and contact information you have is up-to-date. I wouldn’t want you to send an appeal to the wrong person.

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