Gift Architecture and the Donor Database

June 1, 2011 at 11:59 AM

One of the most important aspects of implementing a new donor database or cleaning up an out of control database is selecting the proper gift architecture.

Gift architecture can be defined as the methodology used to categorize donations for later analysis, reconciliation and planning. It is important to note that proper gift architecture will emerge during your planning and design sessions. Every organization will have a different gift architecture based upon their fundraising initiatives and program support.

There are two distinct levels of gift coding that make up the gift architecture landscape: accounting measures and marketing initiatives. Every donor management system offers some type of gift architecture. This how-to article will define terms that you may run across within your implementation and then lay the ground work for getting started.

TERMINOLOGY: The following terms will be utilized by different database systems. No database software will utilize them all, but some combination of three or four of the following …

Accounting measures allow for the reconciliation of the accounting and fundraising information. This information will provide a solid summary of all funds that have been acquired for the direct support of your organization, programs and services. The two most commonly used terms are funds and purposes.

Funds: The simple definition is that each fund should tie directly to a specific, physical bank account.

Purposes: These represent the specific services or programs that are being funded.

Marketing initiatives allow the development team to micromanage their fundraising activities. This is important for tracking expense to income ratios, success of fundraising initiatives, derive expectations for future revenue, etc. The most commonly used marketing measures include campaigns, appeals or solicitations and packages.

Campaigns: Should represent a grouping of appeals. On the most basic level this may simply be the Annual Campaign. The more diverse your fundraising portfolio the more Campaigns you will build. For example, if your annual campaign is made up of events, direct mail, grants, planned giving, major gifts/pledge program, etc. your campaigns may represent each of these areas to provide a stronger break-down of revenue.

Appeals/Solicitations: Expenses are typically attached to a specific appeal or solicitation. For this reason, these should be date sensitive. Appeals and solicitations are the specific asks you make from a donor.

Packages: Packages are only utilized in the more expensive software packages, but can add value. For example, if you mail a direct mail letter to all donors in your donor pool in mid-October then follow-up three weeks later and mail a similar letter to everyone that has not yet made a gift to the first ask this may be coded as PackageA and PackageB. All funds will be supporting the same ask, but may be analyzed by specific response time and response rate.

Fund Purpose Campaign Appeal Package
General Operating Cardiac Health Events 11 Red Dress Dance Sponsorship
Ticket Sales
General Operating Cancer Research Direct Mail 11 Year-End Appeal Mailing 1
Mailing 2
Endowment Scholarship Events 11 Golf Tournament Golfer Registration
Gala Ticket Purchase


Raiser’s Edge

Sage Fundraising 50


Entry filed under: Database Solutions, Fundraising. Tags: , , , , , .

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About the Author

Susan Douglas is a non-profit advisor, social media consultant, educator and trainer, software and donor database implementation specialist and all around guru for the non-profit community. Susan has worked in non-profit development and management for 13 years and is currently an affiliated partner for Non-Profit Partners.

Although Susan has spent the majority of her professional career building traditional fundraising and awareness campaigns, Susan is most passionate and excited about emerging new media and how these tools can help foster and nurture real relationships with community advocates on behalf of the non-profit organizations she serves.

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