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Nonprofit Heroes: fundraising data expert Dawn Varley

Welcome to our Nonprofit Heroes series, where the Donorfy team interviews industry experts, successful proven fundraisers, and nonprofit heroes with stories and tips to inspire your charity to use technology to your advantage and do good, better. Enjoy!

The second interviewee in our new series is Dawn Varley, an experienced nonprofit professional with 20 years served in the charity sector.

With time spent charity-side at medium – large organisations such as WaterAid, Christian Aid, League Against Cruel Sports and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home; Trustee roles at the Institute of Fundraising (inc Finance Committee and Standards Committee) and Brook Advisory; and as a consultant advising charities on how to get the most out of tech, processes and strategy, Dawn has the knowledge & experience to help charities with their fundraising challenges.

We asked Dawn a few questions about her career and what advice she has for charities looking to increase the effectiveness of their fundraising.

Let’s start with some background information - who are you, and what do you do?

dawn varley.jpg

I'm Dawn Varley, and in a nutshell I aim to help non-profits achieve more with their fundraising through intelligent use of data, systems and processes. I embrace my inner-geek and channel it for good, either from within the charity, or as a trusted partner.

What was your first job?

As a part-time endeavor, paper girl. As a full-time one, Mortgage Customer Service Admin at a high street bank.

How did you get into the charity sector?

By realising that if I was going to get paid to mindlessly push paper around a desk all day, then it might as well be for a good cause. So I moved from the bank to the reception of a charity - much more mindful.

You’re well-known for your love of data. What is it about data that you love?

For fundraising, data equals people. And fundraising is nothing without people, as those gifts don't give themselves. So to maximise relationships, giving, and opportunities, you have to have at least a healthy respect for, if not love, of data.

Some people see their database as a glorified address book, But I guess you'd say it can be a lot more than that? How?

I think the starting point is knowing what you want to achieve, and that harks back to strategy. If you're a major donor fundraiser for a small charity, then a glorified address book may well do it!

But if you want to develop real relationships with your supporters, identify prospects and sources, and understand both giving and non-financial engagement, you need to start recording the data and gaining insight from it.

And that's before we start to consider wider regulatory and legal requirements, such as the Fundraising Code of Practice, and Data Protection Act requirements, for example. Managing data helps you get all that in order.

When it comes to donor databases you must have seen good, bad and ugly. Any particular cases come to mind?

A recurring favourite is always the Access database that a volunteer built to 'save money', but the volunteer is long gone and the charity is left with effectively a locked black box of data, that no-one else can understand.

At the other end of the scale is the platform solution, customised to the organisations needs. Which of course can be hugely powerful, but unless you get the people and processes right as well as the technology, ie input, engagement and buy-in of end users and stakeholders, and full understanding of required business processes, then you're in for a rocky ride.

You get to work with lots of charities. If you had to give a shout out to one, which one would it be, and why?

Can't miss an opportunity to mention Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, as I'm currently there doing an interim Fundraising Project Manager role across digital, data and systems work, but also as I've been a volunteer dog walker for 5 years. Fabulous organisation which helps over 8,000 homeless dogs and cats each year.

Big data - should we care?

We should only care once we get our small and medium size data sorted out. Which is a big enough challenge in itself. Your own supporters should always be the priority, not the world at large.

Here at Donorfy we’re all about making data management easier for charities. If you got your wish, what would you make easier than it is today?

Dealing with monster companies such as Sky. Impossible to speak to a human, or get a consistent customer experience. Charities are often customer services geniuses in comparison.

And finally, the tech questions:

Mac or PC?

PC all the way.

iPhone or Android?

iPhone creature of habit

Favourite app?

Twitter, as much as it unfortunately annoys me more than it entertains these days. Follow me @nfpdawnv - and entertain me, ideally.

Huge thanks to Dawn for joining us for our first Nonprofit Heroes interview!

If you’d like to nominate an industry expert or non-profit hero to be featured on our blog, contact us or tweet us @Donorfy.

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter so you don’t miss the next interview, and be sure to sign up for a free 2-week trial of Donorfy for your charity if you haven’t already.