In the fundraising niche where I do most of my work, donor-centricity requires effective database management and attention to detail: data entry standards, quality control measures, and thoughtful, respectful documentation of donor information. But speaking as a former English teacher, in every area of effective database management, spelling really does count.
Penelope Burk and Cygnus Applied Research created the concept of “donor-centered fundraising” based their 1997 survey which showed:
87% of Cygnus’ study respondents said they would give again the next time they were asked, 64% would make a larger gift, and 74% would continue to give indefinitely, if they received the following every time they made a gift:
- prompt, meaningful acknowledgment of their gifts
- reassurance that their gifts will be directed as donors intend
- meaningful results on their gifts at work, before they are asked for another contribution
To ensure that the three guarantees of ongoing giving identified in the Cygnus study, proper stewardship often begins before the first gift is even made. Proper stewardship begins with good spelling.
The donor’s name must always be spelled correctly – and that means as they have chosen to spell it. Don’t assume. And if you did initially enter it incorrectly, change it when you receive the first correspondence or the first gift. (And yes, I’ve seen a $1M proposal sent out with names misspelled. I just wish my red pen and I had seen it before it was sent.)
Proper spelling goes beyond proper names. The post office may not deliver mail which carries an incorrectly spelled or formatted address; messages will not be received by misspelled email addresses or mistyped phone numbers. Misspellings in prospect research deliverables or contact reports may simply embarrass the writer among their colleagues, or worse, convey and perpetuate incorrect information. Query and reporting syntax will nearly always require the correct spelling; the hardest searches to effectively run are the ones where the search criteria or the source data contain typos. It is essential to develop data entry standards, quality control processes, exception reports, and data update schedules, but it is just as critical to correct individual errors whenever and wherever you spot them – that’s true donor-centricity.
More broadly speaking, isn’t “spelling” just another word for meticulous data entry and strong data integrity? In fundraising, names and contact information are where precise data entry begins, but gift entry and acknowledgement are where scrupulous data entry practices must flourish. As a colleague of mine said recently, “gift processing should really be called gift stewardship.” Individual gifts must be accurately entered; attributed to the correct donor; allocated to the proper funds, campaigns, appeals, proposals, events, memorials, tributes, and matching gifts; receipted for the correct legal amount; and thoughtfully, meaningfully, and promptly acknowledged with the donor’s preferred salutation and address correctly spelled. Tracking fundraising results absolutely depends on accurate gift entry, and confidently communicating success and sustainability to donors and stakeholders is another aspect of stewardship.
Finally, “spelling counts” not simply because it is required by your finance team or the IRS, or by your own pride and responsibility, but because it matters to donors: it is a measure of care and respect.