Direct Access Improves Fundraising Efforts

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The days of relying totally on a service bureau to access member and donor data are over. More nonprofits are learning how easy and cost-efficient it is to gain direct access to their databases and the positive effect it can have on their fundraising efforts.

According to Carole Atkinson, senior project coordinator of marketing services at Veterans of Foreign Wars, easy access to data helps conserve one of the most precious resources -- time. It allows more time to make strategic decisions and improve marketing efforts.

Direct access to its complete fundraising database will mean faster reporting, cleaner data and more valuable information for a nonprofit. In the fundraising world where a single donor may be a direct mail responder, a major donor, a planned giving donor, a member or a telemarketing responder, the ability to view, report and analyze this information directly from a desktop becomes an extremely valuable tool. It allows any fundraiser to turn data into actionable marketing information.

Fundraising databases can be accessed in the following ways:

Managing the data from within a facility. This method provides the highest level of control. Data resides on a nonprofit's file server and is accessed via its network. The fundraiser uses its own facility, equipment and employees to manage the data. Processing and updates can be done either at the fundraiser's facility or at its service bureau.

Connecting directly through a modem. The data resides at the service bureau. Good direct access includes the ability to easily retrieve individual donor information as well as run reports, queries and analysis. Direct mail segmentation can be done inhouse or at the service bureau. Connection is made using a common phone connection or an ISDN line.

Connecting via the Internet. The data resides at the service bureau. Full access is available so that reports, queries and analysis can be run across the Internet and printed at the fundraiser's location. This form of access adds two important features: the ability to access the information from virtually anywhere and the elimination of any type of long distance charges.

Access should be fast and should enable the fundraiser to get reports and counts quickly and correctly without the need to interface with the service bureau every time a need arises. Data access must include:

* Maximum security.

* Flexible reporting features.

* Ability to manage all types of donors.

* Powerful analytical tools.

* Easy integration with other applications. Just as important as access to data are the other tools that the service bureau can provide: information and well-organized manuals, effective training and a help desk that can manage not only the technical questions but also offer value-added recommendations to help fundraisers do a better job.

Whether an organization has 500,000 donors or 5 million donors, access to data can improve its fundraising efforts. Offering more control to maintain, analyze and use data, improved access will enhance a nonprofit's marketing efforts. It will make the job easier and it will help the organization raise more net dollars.

Cathy Folkes is the director of fundraising technology at Merkle Direct Marketing Inc., Lanham, MD.

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