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Ops & Asks

The Musings Of A Houston Fundraiser

  • Writer's pictureJuliana M. Weissbein CFRE

Building a Fundraising Database: Navigating Nuance and Embracing Fluidity in Binary Systems

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

In the dynamic landscape of nonprofit organizations and social justice, fundraising stands as a critical conduit for driving change, fostering progress, and propelling transformative initiatives. Yet, the pursuit of equitable fundraising is a multifaceted challenge that extends far beyond the mere act of raising funds. Central to this pursuit is the design of your fundraising database, an often-underestimated tool that can wield tremendous power in ensuring fairness, inclusivity, and sensitivity. In this blog post, I embark on a journey through the intricacies of building a fundraising database that captures the nuances of human nature, addresses the challenges of tracking demographic data, and emphasizes the vital importance of prioritizing the values of community-centric fundraising.

The Challenge of Trackability and Nuance

Equitable fundraising hinges on the principle of treating all your constituents with fairness, acknowledging their unique contributions, respecting their individuality, and comprehending the intricate tapestry of motivations that drive their support. Designing a database that not only tracks these subtleties but also responds to them is a nuanced endeavor. Here are just a few ways you can navigate this challenge:

  1. Segmentation and Customization: In the pursuit of capturing the essence of human nature, thoughtful segmentation becomes paramount. Consider categorizing your constituents not only by their giving levels but also their interaction level, how long they have been supporting your mission, and their personal interest in your shared cause. Tailoring your database strategies to align with these segments underscores the truth that your supporters are integral to your organization irrespective of how much they give.

  2. Behavioral Analysis: A profound understanding of donor behavior—not just the frequency and magnitude of contributions but also their participation in events, and interaction with communications—unlocks insights into their inclinations and proclivities. Capture these actions and utilize the insights to generate personalized interactions that foster deeper engagement.

  3. Leveraging Technology: The realm of modern technology, including the prowess of machine learning algorithms, presents the opportunity to predict donor behavior and preferences. By delving into patterns and trends, these tools offer invaluable insights that fuel more personalized and equitable interactions while also saving your fundraisers time to focus on deepening relationships.

Navigating the Challenges of Tracking Demographic Data

While a successful fundraising program necessitates the collection and utilization of demographic data, it's imperative to approach this task with profound sensitivity and unwavering ethical considerations. Here's how you can surmount challenges of collecting demographic data:

  1. Voluntary and Respectful Disclosure: Acknowledge that demographic information is deeply personal and potentially delicate. Uphold the principle of voluntary disclosure, ensuring that your donors comprehend the purpose and potential benefits of providing such information. By respecting their privacy and identities, you foster a foundation of trust and transparency.

  2. Inclusive Language and Options: When soliciting demographic data, embrace language that embodies inclusivity and presents a wide spectrum of options to accurately reflect the diverse tapestry of identities. Provide text boxes over picklists whenever possible and respect the data that your supporters provide. Avoid gender-based or other limiting identifiers like salutations or spousal signifiers unless you allow for nuance and difference. Following these guidelines empower supporters to self-identify in ways that resonate with their personal experiences.

  3. Interrogate Your Reasons: If you are capturing demographic data, ask yourself what you will be doing with it. Are your data points consistent with your desired outcomes? As an example, if you are capturing gender so you know which t-shirt to send a supporter, ask for their t-shirt size instead!

  4. Interrogate Your Sources: It is common practice for nonprofits to work with data brokerages. While this may seem like a harmless practice, nonprofits must be critical of the data they purchase and generate. Before an organization begins to leverage donor data in order to raise more money, demonstrate impact in a grant report, or build out the organization's strategic plans, we need to investigate where it comes from and the bias that may be written into its collection methodology.

  5. Data Protection and Compliance: Safeguard the sanctity of donor data by establishing robust security measures. Adhere diligently to data protection regulations, including the GDPR and CCPA, to ensure that donor information is managed both ethically and within the confines of the law.

  6. Aggregated Data Utilization: Instead of singularly focusing on individual demographic data, contemplate the analysis of aggregated data trends. This avenue can provide invaluable insights without compromising the privacy of individual donors.

  7. Equity-Centered Decision-Making: Harness demographic data as a tool that informs your fundraising strategies, facilitating the equitable allocation of resources. Tailor your campaigns to resonate with diverse audiences while sidestepping the perpetuation of stereotypes.

The Power of Community-Centric Fundraising

Amidst the complexities of fundraising, the value of community-centric fundraising shines bright. Rooted in the principles of respect and social justice, this approach serves as a potent catalyst for equity:

  1. Listening and Learning: Embrace the art of active listening to comprehend the needs and aspirations of your community. Engage in open dialogue, allowing the voices of those you serve to shape the trajectory of your fundraising data.

  2. Long-Term Relationship Building: Prioritize long-term relationships over fleeting transactions. Nurture genuine connections with donors and community members, fostering a sense of belonging and mutual commitment.

  3. Adaptive Strategies: Community-centric fundraising acknowledges that communities evolve, and thus, fundraising strategies must be fluid and adaptable. Embrace an iterative approach that responds to changing needs and aspirations.

In closing, the design of an equitable fundraising database is a joining of both technological priorities and ethical mindfulness. By capturing the intricacies of human nature through segmentation, behavioral analysis, and modern technology, and navigating the complexities of demographic data with sensitivity, you lay a sturdy foundation for an equitable fundraising journey. Yet, this journey is incomplete without incorporating the essence of community-centric fundraising, which breathes life into equity by centering the community, embracing collaboration, and nurturing lasting relationships. Remember, equitable fundraising is a dynamic voyage—a journey marked by empathy, understanding, and unwavering commitment to positive change.


Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE is a respected leader and decision influencer in regard to fundraising operations best practices. With over a decade of experience, Juliana thrives on professional growth, team success, measurable results, and inspiring fundraisers to utilize data-based strategies. Juliana currently serves as the Associate Director of Development Operations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is an AFP Global Board Member, AFP Global's 2019 Outstanding Young Professional Fundraiser, and is a member of the AFP Global Women's Impact Initiative. Juliana is immediate past chair of the AFP New York City chapter’s Emerging Leaders Committee and currently serves on the chapter’s board chairing their mentorship program. She resides in Houston, TX, and never turns down a good kombucha.


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