Managing Donor Data in Salesforce: The Basics for Nonprofits

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All organizations look for ways to increase efficiency without drastically growing their overhead. For nonprofits, the hesitance to make large investments of resources, time, or strategy into building more efficient infrastructures can really hold them back.

Thankfully, Salesforce has become an increasingly popular solution for nonprofits, and it’s helping to address this issue head-on. Investing in and developing a strong Salesforce instance can fuel serious growth because it allows nonprofits to start truly leveraging their data in ways that many have simply never been able to before.

However, many nonprofits aren’t particularly tech-savvy, so the learning curve can be fairly steep for some. At Soapbox Engage, our mission is to help nonprofits get up and running on Salesforce faster, boosting adoption and reducing friction. We’ve put together a short primer on managing donor data in Salesforce. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Understanding the essentials of donor data
  • Standardizing your data processes
  • Automating small and recurring tasks
  • Developing a long-term data strategy

A refresher on donor data management is a smart move for any organization today, as online and virtual fundraising become more important than ever amid unprecedented economic and social shake-ups. More generally, if you recently adopted Salesforce (or are considering making the move), familiarizing your team with these building blocks is a good way to strengthen your overall approach. Let’s get started.


Understanding the Essentials of Donor Data

If you don’t have much experience with a professional-grade CRM or donor data management platform like Salesforce, understanding the essentials of donor data — what it is, why it’s important, how it gets collected — is critical.

Review the Purposes of Collecting and Organizing Data

Start by reviewing the deeper purposes of collecting and organizing donor data:

  • Logistically, organizations need records of their transactions both at the individual level and at the big-picture level of overall revenue.
  • Strategically, donor data allows nonprofits to drill down into the performance of their marketing and fundraising campaigns.
  • More comprehensively organized data helps nonprofits learn more about their constituents and find correlations to further refine their strategies.

You’ve (hopefully) always had a system for tracking transactions, but a more robust CRM will help you start using that data to generate more long-term value and ultimately help your organization to grow. A well-organized CRM will help you quickly answer questions like these about your strategies and supporters:

  • Which age segment converts at the highest rate?
  • What kinds of industries do most of your volunteers work in?
  • Which marketing campaigns have delivered the lowest cost-per-acquisition?

How could the answers to these questions improve your fundraising strategies, both immediately and in the long-term? That’s the core value of devoting time and resources to strengthening your data infrastructure with a platform like Salesforce.

Key Data for Donor Profiles

There are a few key data points that should be accounted for within your donor profiles in Salesforce. Think of them as the essentials or cornerstones for your data strategy:

  • Names, contact info, addresses, and households
  • Demographic information like age and gender
  • Previous donations, including dates, amounts, and any other details
  • Previous engagement, including sign-ups, event attendance, volunteering, etc.
  • Any relevant wealth or philanthropic markers (if you conduct prospect research for major gift fundraising)

With these core pieces of data automatically reporting to your Salesforce instance, you’ll be in a strong position to build out more advanced strategies and custom optimizations over time. Check out our complete list of optimization essentials for the Salesforce NPSP for an idea of what these might look like for your organization.

As you continue building out your donor data management strategies, it’s important to consider how any additional apps added to your Salesforce toolkit fit into your unique configuration. Working with related suites of apps or app ecosystems will help to keep everything standardized and running as smoothly as possible for your team.


Standardizing Your Data Processes

Your CRM is only as useful as the data it contains. Too many nonprofits eagerly make the move to a professional-grade database platform (which is great), but then fail to follow professional-grade data management protocols (which is not so great).

Common Data Management Mistakes

The most common data management mistakes include:

  • Collecting and tracking too many unnecessary or irrelevant data points
  • Recording duplicate records
  • Entering or reporting data in non-standardized ways

Each of these mistakes makes it difficult to quickly and easily find what you need, reducing the overall usefulness and value of your database over time. Standardizing your data processes starts with the initial migration and importation steps. The NPSP has its own specialized process for importing donation records that helps ensure a smooth migration from your previous database.

Standardize Data Entry

Once you’re actively reporting new donor data and engagement records into Salesforce, it’s critical to have standardized data entry protocols. Data needs to be entered and tagged in standard ways to ensure your database stays organized and useful. Dates are a basic example — will you record it as day/month/year or as month/day/year?

Document these established protocols for continued reference. Salesforce includes tools for finding where fields are used within your instance, but you should aim to minimize the complexity of the system as a whole.

Again, working with suites of related apps and fundraising software rather than a kit of disparate tools that need to be integrated separately is the smartest move. This ensures that incoming data gets routed in standardized ways and it smoothes the learning curve for your team.


Automating Small and Recurring Tasks

Task automation can also be extremely useful to your data strategies. By automating small and recurring tasks, you reap a few benefits:

  • Save your team’s time and minimize errors
  • Ensure complete standardization of data as it enters your CRM
  • Generate more engagement data over the long-run

We won’t walk through the complete process of setting up a process automation in Salesforce, since it varies heavily between tasks. One great example to consider is automating your donor thank-you emails after completed donations. Use the Salesforce Process Builder to send a preconfigured email (pulling from a variety of templates for each campaign, donation tier, etc.) immediately after a donation. Here’s how it might look:

Check out these examples of easy process automations from to see more.

The main idea is that automating tasks like thank you emails not only saves your team’s time but also generates more data to inform your strategies. For example, Salesforce can track how your donors engage with those thank-you emails, determining how effectively you might use them to promote surveys, matching gift requests, and more post-donation actions.


Developing a Long-Term Data Strategy

A big-picture vision of exactly how Salesforce will benefit your organization over the long-run goes a long way to keep your strategies focused.

Does your team understand why strong data collection, management, and analysis is so important? Do your Salesforce tools and protocols reflect your larger goals? How can your data better support your mission? Questions like these are critical and require constant check-ins.

As a fuller picture of your overarching data strategy comes together, keep these tips in mind:

Consider ‘Invisible’ Data Management Processes

Consider other elements that may affect your data management process in more invisible ways. Payment or donation processing for nonprofits is a good example; different processors handle recurring donations in different ways, with each method giving you different volumes of data flowing back from the transactions. We’ve written about this topic over on the blog if you’re curious to learn more.

Work with an Implementation Expert

Work with an implementation expert to develop your strategy. Not only will a tech consultant help you identify and articulate your big-picture data goals, but they’ll also be able to fully configure your Salesforce instance to actually support those goals. Making the move to Salesforce is a considerable investment of time, money, and resources, so the additional expense of an expert guide is usually worth it in the long-run.

Enable Your Team

Fully familiarize your team with the wide range of Salesforce resources available. Salesforce Trailhead should definitely be your first stop. Make sure to document every step of your implementation and configuration processes and your data entry protocols as you set them. If you work with any consultants, make sure they provide you with full documentation of their work and additional training sessions. Documentation should be central to your larger Salesforce strategies going forward.

Most importantly, strategically delegate roles as they relate to Salesforce. Avoid siloing too much know-how in a single position. Even though one person on your team will likely be the primary system administrator, they definitely shouldn’t be the only person who understands why you’re using Salesforce in the first place!


Making the move to Salesforce is a major strategic investment for any organization and especially for nonprofits. With an intense pressure to reduce overhead and boost fundraising revenue, making the most of their data with a robust CRM platform can be a game-changer.

This is more true today than ever before, as online and virtual fundraising has not only become the norm but the necessity amid event cancellations and social distancing measures. You need strong measures in place to make real use of all that data your online efforts generate.

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