It’s hard to tell how your earliest jobs will fit themselves into your overall working life. I had some of the usual teenage jobs, such as babysitting and a paper route. But one job, the one I could do in my bathrobe, led me down a path that still influences my work today.

And it’s all my father’s fault. (Or something like that.)

You see my father was working for a big national charity at that time. And it was the era when computers where really taking over and there was a need to digitize the paper files. So he hired his eldest daughter (me) to solve his problem. He handed me an oversized box of software, still shrink-wrapped, and a binder of printed information.

“I need this,” he said, gesturing to the pile of paper, “in here,” waving the database program. 

And that was it. Our family’s computer was located in the spacious utility room where the washing machine also sat and being a teenage who liked to sleep in and stay in my pajamas as long as possible, my career in donor databases began.

Since then I’ve used what I learned about databases in my first job (also for a national charity) and for later work with large institutional planned giving campaigns.

Ask any fundraiser (and people in a whole lotta other careers in this day and age) and they’ll tell you that data is where it all starts.

So you’ll imagine my surprise when I started working with Legacy Jump Start participants, and they pulled me over to one side and quietly said,

“Julia, we think your lesson on how to find legacy prospects in your database is great, (check it out here for free) but Julia, we have one problem.”

“What?” I said.

“There is no database.”

And I’m right back in the laundry room at my parents’ house. If your organization is in this situation, here is your quick and dirty way to uncover the names of the people who should be in your database so that you can invite them to become a legacy giving donor. (And even if you’ve already got a pool of donors identified, you might want to stick around to make sure you aren’t missing out on any new leads.)

Before we jump in, you might want to consider these two things:

How will you capture your donor data?

If you are starting at the beginning, I’d suggest Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Don’t worry to much about a fancy program, leave that until when you have a critical mass or a handy summer student or volunteer needing a project.

Who might need to access your database? (And who shouldn’t?)

 Take a few minutes and think about your database as something that will have a life beyond just you. Who else might need to see it? Who doesn’t need to see it – how will you honour the privacy of your donors? Take a few minutes and make notes or adjustments to your process so that others might be able to follow along. You might consider informing at least one other person as a backup.

Six simple sources for people to include in your database

  1. Members of your board of directors, both today and in the past.
  2. Volunteers who lend their time to your organization, both current and past.
  3. People who gave to your organization in the past 2 years (or further back if you can). If you don’t track this generally, refer back to people who received charitable tax receipts from your organization or download your Donation Reports from Canada Helps.
  4. People who receive print or digital updates about your organization.
  5. People who have attended events hosted by your organization.
  6. People who are regularly connected to your organization: this could be beneficiaries, or the family and friends of your beneficiaries. For example, an organization whose mission involves engaging children might include the parents of those children in their database.
  7. Suppliers to your organization. (FYI, corporate entities by definition can’t make a legacy gift. But they could make a gift today, perhaps to an endowment fund.)

For each person identified, include their name and contact information on your spreadsheet. Details about who they are (such as how they are connected to your organization, as a volunteer, donor, etc.) and the date and amount of their recent gift(s) are also helpful to include.

That’s it – now you have a database. All of your fundraising can and should revolve around this tool – such as adding new people to your list, deciding which existing donors might be great candidates for legacy giving and following up with regular updates about your organization’s successes and challenges.

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