Why is database-based communication necessary in the operation of an NGO?

Ideally, an NGO is not just made up of its staff. It is made up not only of staff, but also of all those who agree with, believe in and, where appropriate, are able and willing to act on the mission and purpose of the organisation. To be truly crisis-resilient, sustainable and effective, NGOs need to build their own social base, which they rely on to support their various activities: their events and programmes are made successful by volunteers, their short- and long-term plans are made more predictable by private donors and corporate relationships, and they rely on their expert base to professionalise their work. To achieve this, it is essential for the NGO to be present in the lives of its followers and supporters, to reach out to them and to know who they can reach, where and how, to achieve their goals. In other words, we need a database.

What should be the purpose of data collection?

So the first step in database management is to define your objectives. The purpose of communicating with database members can be many, for example:

  • building trust with our followers and potential supporters

  • branding, building awareness

  • event management

  • fundraising

  • actively engage existing supporters (e.g. ask a volunteer or follower to donate to an event)

  • attracting new supporters

How do you get your database?

At first, don't think you have to start from scratch, because every organisation has a database, even if they don't call it that or think they don't. A database is really any collection of interrelated information. So if your organisation has, say, the list of names and email contact details of your supporters in an excel spreadsheet, that's a small database.

How can you grow your database and how should you do it?

There are many ways in which NGOs can use their work to collect the data they need. For example, an event, a questionnaire or even a petition. It is worth thinking about what data we need to communicate with them later, what we want to use the data for, what we want to know about each contact so that we can effectively address them next time. We will need different data for different purposes, so the second step is to define the data we need for those purposes. For example, we might need different data if we want to target people for an event where, say, residential data might be relevant, and different data if we are sending out a mailing for an online donation. In addition, we should not ignore the guidelines on data collection (GDPR), which sets out how data can be collected, stored and used.

You can read more about online and offline data collection in a future article!

Reaching out through social media - isn't enough?

The question arises as to why database building is even necessary in the age of social media. After all, social media presence is now a must-have for NGOs, and here - albeit organically with less and less effectiveness, but in the form of targeted advertising - you can reach thousands of people who could be potential supporters.

What is the point of keeping a separate database, which we ourselves have to keep up to date? We have several answers to this:

  • the data is owned by the organisation itself: with social media, we only reach our supporters or target groups indirectly, while with careful storage of our own database, we don't lose our existing contacts.

  • it helps us to plan consciously: the growth of our database is not influenced by an algorithm, but by our data collection activities, which are tailored to our own goals. We can determine what data we collect and store for our different purposes, rather than working along the lines of an existing framework, such as Facebook's variable algorithm.

  • personalised messages = more activity: by using and analysing our own database, we can much better control and measure who gets what. We can monitor who is interested in what, and then send them different messages and requests based on e.g. interest, donor mentality, source of entry, etc.

  • automatism: we can set up response letters, thank you and welcome messages to be personalised, which can generate a closer relationship and greater engagement between the organisation and those who are connected to it. But we can also use it to filter out those who don't open the emails, so that we can offer them another round of reminders of our upcoming event or call. Automatic mailings also save the organisation a lot of time.

We hope you have a better understanding of the benefits of database management. In the first round of articles, we will present practices for systems that manage more complex processes, but we will soon expand the case studies to include simple systems that manage basic processes in an intuitive way.

Illusztráció: whoisjamiejones.com