Let Go and Freshen Up: Spring Cleaning for Your Nonprofit

The Great Clean-Up

One thing I’ve noticed now that it’s officially spring is the number of articles about spring cleaning and decluttering. For many of us, these types of projects can be overwhelming, especially if we’ve ignored that mutating pile of paperwork or our closets are overflowing with so much stuff we can barely open the door.

As much as I dislike cleaning and organizing, I’m happy once it gets done. Often getting started is the hardest part.

Your nonprofit organization should also do its own version of spring cleaning and decluttering. If you’re feeling reluctant about taking on these so-called cumbersome tasks, just think how happy you’ll be once they get done.

Let’s get started!

Clean up your mailing lists and database

Did you have an influx of address changes, returned mail, and bounced emails after you sent your year-end appeal? This is a good time to clean up and update both your direct mail and email mailing lists.

Don’t wait until right before your next mailing to clean up your donor data. Even though it’s tedious, have someone who’s familiar with your donors (your development director?) go through your mailing lists and database to see if you need to make any additions, changes, and deletions.

Be meticulous. No donor wants to see her name misspelled, be addressed as Mrs. when she prefers Ms., or receive three mailings because you have duplicate records.

Your donor database is an important tool and it needs to be up-to-date and filled with accurate information about your donors.

Letting go

As you clean up your donor database, pay particular attention to your lapsed donors. It may be time to take some of them out of your active donor file. Who are these people?  If they’ve donated in the past, is it likely they’ll donate again? For example, the mother of a former staff member who left five years ago is a good candidate for your inactive file.

Send one more targeted mailing to people who haven’t donated for at least four years. Let them know you miss them and want them back. If you don’t hear anything, let them go. 4 Tips: When to Remove a Lapsed Donor from Your Database

Do the same thing with your email list. It doesn’t make sense to send email to people who don’t respond to it. Give these people a chance to re-engage, and if they’re not even opening your emails, move them to an inactive file. Why Deleting People from Your Email List is a Good Thing

But wait you say, we want as many people in our database and email lists as possible, don’t we?  No, you want people who are still interested your organization. Quality wins over quantity.

You can save money by not mailing to people who aren’t going to support you and aren’t paying attention to you.

Freshen up your messages

Now that you’ve pared down your mailing lists to active donors and supporters, they deserve something good the next time you communicate with them. Will they get that?

Take a good look at your appeal letters, thank you letters, and other content. Have you been using the same stale, old templates for years?  Are your letters all about how great your organization is and filled with jargon?  Are your newsletter articles mind-numbingly boring?

Freshen them up with some donor-centered content. Can Your Organization Pass the Donor-Centered Test?

Don’t put it off too long

Your clutter and dust at home won’t disappear on their own. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. The same is true for your nonprofit.

Take on your cleaning and organization projects as soon as you can. You’ll be happy once they’re done.

3 thoughts on “Let Go and Freshen Up: Spring Cleaning for Your Nonprofit

  1. Hi, thanks, always great. Clean up is important but three important comments:


    Rather give them a flag as do not mail, deceased, suppressed, newsletter only, once a year.

    The reason is that if you remove them from your database and you get a bequest in (which can happen), you will not know that the donor was even on your donor base before.

    Also, if you do acquisition mailings, you’ll need to have the list of do not mails, etc. to hit against any outside lists (to suppress there). You’d not want to accidentally mail that donor if he/she is on someone else’s list and they told you not to mail them. And this happens!!

    I know, this all sounds counter intuitive, but trust me, as long as you flag those donors you do not wish to mail or contact for future reference, you’ll be fine, but this way you at least still have the donor’s previous giving history as well.

    In this day and age, it really does not cost anything to keep these donors on your donor base.


    Especially if you’re relatively new to your organization and you’re not sure what used to happen, be careful.

    I have seen this with several clients, where we mailed to their socalled deep lapsed donors (who had not given in 6 years or longer) and we mailed them in the fall. They made money and we were able to reactivate 4.5%…. It’s often still cheaper to reactivate a lapsed donor than bring in a new donor.


    Your mail house (if you’re using one) typically runs your data through the National Change of Address database. Make sure you ask for the updated information back so you can update your database right away. if you don’t use a mail house, there are some great services like Melissa Data that do this for minimal money. The post office requires you to run your donors through ncao every 95 days.

    thanks, Erica Waasdorp
    erica@adirectsolution.com http://www.adirectsolution.com


    • Very good advice, Erica! Keeping do not mail, deceased, suppressed, newsletter only etc. donors on your list may sound counterintuitive, but it does make sense the way you have spelled out in your comment. I love reading anngreennonprofit’s blog posts, but I also garner just about as much knowledge from the comment section as a due from the body of the blog post itself!


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