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Why (and How) to Create Donor Profiles

9 min read
February 16, 2024
Abby Jarvis

You’ve probably heard about the significance of “knowing your donors,” especially when you’re writing appeals and raising money. But once you’ve gathered all your donor data points—who they are, how they give, why they support your cause, how they want to engage with you, and tons more—how exactly can you put that knowledge into action? 

By creating donor profiles, that’s how.

Read on to learn about donor profiles, why they’re important, and how to build them.

What Are Donor Profiles?

Think of donor profiles as detailed portraits of your supporters. 

A good profile will give you a solid understanding of an individual supporter, including things like their demographic data, donation history, and communication preferences. 

If your donor profiles are really thorough, they may also contain information about your supporter’s volunteer history, hobbies and interests, professional details, family, and more.

Why Should I Create Donor Profiles?

Picture it: You have a meeting with a potential major donor. Before you walk into the room, you close your eyes and mentally review what you know about her. 

She’s been a monthly donor to your organization for the last three years. Her kids attended your outdoor education day camp last summer—she was even a volunteer chaperone at one of the field trips. When she got your most recent donor survey, she indicated that she was interested in learning more about how to donate to the children’s museum you’re building. You’ve even used a wealth screening tool to get an idea of how much she may be willing to donate.

Yeah, you’re a little nervous. But, because you reviewed her donor profile before your meeting, you know she’s invested in your work, has a history with your organization, and can make a gift to a project close to her heart. 

That’s just one example of how useful donor profiles can be. You can also use them to gain insight into:

  • Which campaigns and programs are most compelling to your donors
  • Which communication styles are most appealing to them
  • Who may be interested in volunteering
  • Who may be good candidates for board membership
  • How much you should ask for in your next appeal

Donor profiles help you understand individual supporters and your donor base as a whole. They’re invaluable for anyone who wants to understand who their donors are and what makes them tick.

This is a screenshot of a donor profile built in Neon CRM. It includes information about the donor, including her name, preferred name, household, birthday, communication preferences, and even her favorite animal.
Your donor profiles will help you personalize your interactions with your supporters. For example, this screenshot shows the donor’s preferred name, birthday, preferred communication methods, and many more. Click here to see a larger version of this image.

How Do I Create Effective Donor Profiles?

There are a number of ways to build donor profiles, but first, you’ll need a system to house them. The most effective tool for this is a nonprofit CRM

If you don’t have a CRM yet, you’ll want to use something like Excel or Google Sheets to manage that information (psst: We have some pretty neat donor database templates you can use if you need something—and they’re free).

Once you’ve got a place to store your donors’ data, you can start collecting information for their profiles. Here are some common ways to do that.

Connect Your CRM to Your Donation Form… 

When you connect your CRM and your donation form, all your donors’ information will flow neatly into your database. There are generally two ways to do this.

The first is to use a system that includes both a CRM and donation forms. If you’re a Neon CRM user, this is your setup! 

Because you use one system to accept donations and track donor information, profiles for new donors will automatically appear after they make their first gift, while profiles for existing donors will automatically update their giving history every time they make a new one.

In both instances, these updates will be seamless and relatively instantaneous.

This is a screenshot of part of a donor profile in Neon CRM. This part of the system shows the donor’s giving history.
When you use your CRM’s online fundraising capabilities or connect your CRM to another online fundraising platform, your donor profiles should reflect your supporters’ giving history and other activities. Click here to see a larger version of this image.

The other is to use an integration to move donor information from your online fundraising platform to your CRM. When you have this setup, a donor’s profile should automatically appear (or update) and populate with their transaction data. 

These updates, however, can take a while. Integrations typically run on a schedule—in which case your donors’ information will update periodically throughout the week—or can be run manually.

If you’re not using a CRM (or if your CRM and online fundraising software don’t integrate), you’ll need to manually download your donors’ information after they give and then upload it to your database.

… And Other Forms On Your Site

What other forms do you use on your nonprofit’s website? Common ones include:

  • Membership forms
  • Volunteer interest forms
  • Event registration forms
  • Program participation forms
  • Newsletter sign-ups

Each of those forms collects information about the people in your community. When you connect those forms to your CRM, you’ll automatically create profiles for those people, too. 

This is a great way to build a base of potential donors and understand the different ways existing donors interact with you.

Send Donor Surveys

Looking for a way to understand your donors on a personal level? Ask them to share with you!

Donor surveys are a fantastic way to learn about your supporters’ motivations, interests, goals, and opinions. 

If you use a CRM that comes with built-in survey tools (like Neon CRM does), you may be able to create one for your supporters, send it to them, and automatically update their profiles with their answers. 

If you want to use a survey tool that doesn’t connect with your CRM, you can collect your donors’ survey responses and update their profiles yourself by hand. 

However you choose to use them, surveys can give you invaluable insight into your donors that you can use to inform campaigns, guide the appeal-writing process, and build relationships with your supporters.

Add Your Own Notes

Did you bump into a donor at a coffee shop and have a great conversation? When you talked to them at a recent event, was one of your supporters really interested in a particular program? Did you have an interesting meeting with someone who might leave you a legacy gift?

Put notes in their donor profiles!

Fundraising doesn’t just happen online. It happens any time you connect with your community and build relationships with your supporters. 

Yes, that sometimes happens online. But those personal moments—chats while waiting for a coffee, informal discussions at events, etc.—all help build peoples’ affinity for your organization. 

Make a note of these instances so you can reference them later on.

This is a screenshot of the “Notes” area of a donor profile in Neon CRM. It includes two notes. One mentions the donor’s history of volunteering with trail clean-up efforts, and the other summarizes a conversation someone had with the donor about her interest in the upcoming summer camp program.
Keeping good notes in your donor profiles will be useful as you build relationships with individual supporters.

Integrate Other Platforms

There are all kinds of tools and platforms available that can give fundraisers insight into their supporters. 

Wealth screening tools, matching gifts platforms, volunteer management software, and event planning and ticketing platforms can all contain valuable information about your donors. 

The tricky part is getting all of that information in one place. If your different platforms don’t work together, you’ll have a hard time with building consistent donor profiles that capture someone’s different activities with your organization.

Say, for example, you use one platform for your online giving, a different platform for event registrations, and a different platform for your donor database. If your systems don’t talk to each other, you’ll have a hard time identifying your donors who attend your events and make donations. 

But, if you integrate your different systems—or if you’re using an all-in-one system that includes those functions—you can automatically update donor profiles to reflect the different ways people engage with you.

Otherwise, you’ll want to make time to manually update your donor profiles with information from your different systems. It’ll take a while, but getting a complete understanding of your supporters will be worth the effort.

Have a Process In Place

The data in your donor profiles will be most useful if it’s consistent. And, when you’ve got multiple staff people updating those profiles, consistency can be hard to attain.

You can mitigate the risk of inconsistent data by training your staff on how to enter (and format) donor data. Once everyone’s on the same page, hold regular refresher training sessions to keep everyone up-to-date on your best practices. 

This will help ensure your data is consistently clean, well-formatted, and usable.

Now’s the Time to Build (and Use!) Donor Profiles

Donor profiles are the best way to get to know your donors. When you build them, you create snapshots of the different people who support your work. You capture who they are, how they support you, and—with a little ingenuity—their passions and interests. 

Whether you want to understand your donor base as a whole or need personal information about a particular supporter, your donor profiles will be your most valuable asset.

To build effective donor profiles, you’ll need a CRM or other platform that will store your donors’ data in a way that makes it easy to access and use. Then, you can use its built-in tools to collect that information or connect your CRM to the other platforms you use to engage your community.

Does your CRM help you build donor profiles, keep them updated, and use that information to build relationships with your supporters? If it doesn’t (or if you’re looking for your first CRM!), here’s a roundup of some of the best options out there.

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