These days, data-driven marketing is everything. Higher education institutions are constantly trying to leverage the data they have to better reach their alumni and encourage them to support their alma mater.

However, if your database is not accurate or complete, your data-driven efforts may be put to waste. Data is not just a tool—it requires a strategy shift for the best possible marketing and fundraising results.

When you optimize your alumni database, you’re investing in the data you already have and gathering new data to commit to a precise, data-driven approach. With these alumni database best practices, you’ll be able to engage alumni more effectively, enticing them to give back to their beloved college or university. Let’s get started!

1. Set clear goals.

Like any other fundraising initiative, you’ll want to start by determining your goals. That way, you can ensure that everyone on your team knows which data is most important at any given time.

For example, if your institution is hosting a giving day to encourage matching gifts, you’ll want to make sure the employer data you have for your alumni is accurate since you’ll need that information to follow up on matching gift requests. Then, your team will know to pay special attention to the employer data section of your database to clear up any inaccuracies.

Your data goals should reflect your institution’s overall goals. To align your data goals with overarching initiatives, develop a goal-setting timeline that works for you. Many institutions create new goals each semester and broader goals for each academic year, so you may want to develop data goals on a semesterly or yearly basis as well.

2. Standardize the data entry process.

Prevent data inaccuracies from the beginning by standardizing your data entry process. Developing specific data entry routines and protocols will save your team time later on and make it easier for new team members to understand how you’d like data to be inputted into your database.

Start by creating data entry rules. Double the Donation recommends storing a variety of donor data, from general contact information to specific donation history and giving amounts. With data entry rules, you can standardize how different types of data should look in your database.

For example, to standardize phone numbers, decide if you’d like your team to use parentheses around area codes so phone numbers look like this: (123) 456-7890. Alternatively, you could have them use dashes between each set of numbers instead: 123-456-7890.

You can also standardize data entry by deciding which data is essential. Having extraneous data will clutter your database and take up team members’ time that could instead be dedicated to working with the data you need to achieve your fundraising and engagement goals.

3. Make sure your database is clean.

AccuData’s guide to data hygiene defines this term as the process of ensuring your database is clean—or tidy and error-free. In this case, errors refer to any outdated, incomplete, duplicated, or inaccurate information in your database.

It’s important to clean your database so you’re reaching out to your alumni according to their correct contact information and communication preferences. Otherwise, you may miss out on chances to gain their support.

To clean your database, follow these three steps:

  1. Audit your database. Start by investigating what your database currently looks like. Is all of your data contained in your database, or do you have outstanding information in spreadsheets or physical forms? Consolidate all of your data in your database, and note any inaccuracies you come across.
  2. Resolve any inaccuracies. Go back to the inaccuracies you found during your audit. Determine how long it will take to resolve each issue and distribute the work to your team accordingly. For example, you may assign one team member to resolve incorrect email addresses and another to remove data for deceased alumni.
  3. Reflect on your data collection strategy. It’s best practice to only include the most important information in your database to avoid clutter. If you regularly send out lengthy surveys or input extraneous alumni data, you may want to limit your focus to your current data priorities.

Taking the time to clean up your database will be well worth the return on investment you receive in alumni engagement and response rates.

4. Conduct prospect research.

Conducting prospect research entails researching your alumni’s capacity and likelihood to give. That way, you can identify which alumni are most likely to become donors and prevent wasting resources on those who aren’t interested in giving.

There are two main types of data you’ll collect during prospect research. These include:

  • Wealth data. This type of data focuses on an alum’s capacity to give. Wealth data may include business affiliations, stock ownership, and home value.
  • Philanthropic data. Just because alumni have the means to give doesn’t mean they’re interested in giving back to your institution. Determine an alum’s propensity to give with philanthropic data, which may include personal information, past giving, and higher education engagement history.

When you collect this data and store it in your database, you’ll have a better idea of who to reach out to for fundraising appeals. Plus, prospect research can help you identify which of your alumni have the potential to become major donors. Since major donors give large gifts to their alma maters, institutions typically like to thank their generous alumni with gifts in return.

5. Append missing data.

After you clean your database and conduct prospect research, you may notice you’re missing important information for some of your alumni. For example, you may be running an SMS fundraising campaign, but if you’re missing phone numbers for some of your alumni, you won’t be able to maximize support.

You can fill in the gaps in your database by appending missing data. When you conduct a data append, you supplement your database with additional information found from third-party sources. While you could append phone numbers to support your SMS campaign, you can also append other types of data, such as email addresses, social media handles, and employer data.

6. Enlist the help of a data management team.

To get the most out of your alumni database, work with a data management team. These data experts understand the importance of proper database management and can save your team time and energy that you can devote to other revenue-generating initiatives.

Additionally, a data management team can help you refine your data-driven alumni fundraising strategy to earn more for your institution. Whether you’re struggling to develop clear data priorities, determine which types of data to append, or conduct prospect research, the right data team can guide you through your custom data-driven approach and how to implement it.

When you optimize your alumni database, you equip your team with the tools they need to reach alumni and gain their support. Using this data to encourage past students’ generosity, you can ultimately provide the best experience possible for current and future students, strengthening your school community as a result.