During a recent online fundraising seminar, we were on the topic of email addresses. I was advising folks to pay attention to their email "bounces" - when an email address is found to be bad and your email can't be delivered, your bulk email software reports it, like this:
An attendee shared that she had a lot of data issues in her donor database - duplicates, outdated contact information, etc. That data needed cleaning up before she could tackle the bounces in her email database. It was overwhelming, so she was not taking any action. That's when it occurred to me that ignoring that data was like ignoring debt - it doesn't get better it just gets worse! Data issues, like debt, continue to pile up unless tackled head on (while we were talking email addresses that day, this of course goes for any data source that is not maintained).
You're busy - and how important is that email bounce data anyway? Well, what if, hidden in that data, is the email address of a major donor - or two? What if that person has not heard from you in weeks or months because they changed their email address and thought they told you? Or better yet, they setup an auto reply in their old email box, but your emails come from a "do not reply" address so that message never came back to you. New or casual email subscribers and online donors can take that as marked disinterest.
I know nonprofit folks have a lot on their plate. But if you are not on top of your data - and because of that are not maintaining good relationships with your online donors - you eventually may not have a plate at all. Online fundraising continues to grow every year and at some point I believe it is destined to overtake giving via direct mail.
Your organization can get on top of tasks like reviewing email address bounces. This can be a good task for a volunteer or intern with a little basic training on running searches in your databases. The data on email bounces is pulled from your email system. In your donor or other databases, you then do a search for folks who bounced. First look for an alternative email address - someone may have gotten the new one and just didn't remove the old one. For those that you don't have alternative email address, consider creating a postcard you can mass mail to say "We are updating our records and would love to stay in touch - return this postcard, go online or call us today!". After a month, for those you don't hear from, you might even call folks whose phone numbers you have. If they say no or don't return the card, that's fine, people's interests change.
An excellent practice is to keep a spreadsheet with the names of folks that bounced and you did not hear from after the postcard and/or phone call. Review the list of major donors every year or 6 months and compare it to that list. If you find a major donor, you might want to dig around in other files or in your network to see if you have a secondary way to contact that person, saying that "I'd like to keep in touch, feel free to email or call me" and leave it at that.
(Flickr photos TheEyeofNewYork; andreasnilsson1976)