What basic information do you need?

When capturing information to create your own direct mail-out database it is vital to find the balance between gathering sufficient data and collecting too much.

Obviously, getting the information means asking questions or requesting some details. However, getting the right information means those questions and requests have to be on target.

The 'Introductory Ask' – Gaining Basic Information

The first thing your group or organisation should do when asking for information is to stick to the basics.

For example, if you have an information stand at an event, you don't want to weigh people down with endless questions just so you can send them a newsletter.

The 'introductory ask' needs to be basic, just enough to get a "foot in the door".

Concentrate on information like:
  • Name
  • Postal address
  • Telephone number
  • E-mail address
  • Gender
  • Age (possibly)
  • Occupation (possibly).
Similarly, the information you might already have on existing members, donors, supporters or volunteers may be limited to these categories.

If there are gaps in this type of basic data for existing contacts, a good place to start your data capture would be to fill these gaps.

The 'Secondary Ask' – Getting More Information

Gaining more information or capturing more data a little further down the track is the next step.

Returning to our example of a person signing up at an information stand at an event, once you have their basic information you can quickly gather more.

If they have signed up as a member or asked for a newsletter to be sent to them, use the opportunity to send them a quick questionnaire in the first mail-out to them.

Be honest with them as to the reasons behind the questionnaire.
Explain that the reason you are gathering information is to help your group communicate better, or focus more clearly, on issues of mutual concern.

Also include a reply paid envelope with any material; this makes it quick and easy to return your questionnaire, and at no charge to them.

While keeping the number of questions short and sweet, look at asking for information like:
  • Occupation (if you haven't asked already).
  • Personal data (eg. number and ages of children, hobbies, interests, etc.).
  • How do they like to receive information (E-mail or post).
  • Payment or donation preferences (if they were willing to donate, what method would be preferred).
  • Fundraising information (eg. would they be willing to take part in fundraisers, or fundraise through the sale of raffle tickets).
  • Are they a member, donor, volunteer or supporter of any groups similar to yours (this can provide a handy snapshot of the strength of your competitors and their activities).
  • How did they hear about your organisation (this can help pinpoint which methods of communication are working for your group).
Also consider asking for information which has specific relevance to your group.

For example, a football club might want to gather information about the person's sporting interests: whether they play or have played football; what football team they support, and whether they are a member of another club. Similarly, a community organisation might want to gather information about whether the person has heard of the work they are doing; if they support the cause, or if the cause has personal relevance to a friend or relative.

Too Much Information

Again, remember not to collect too much information.

While knowing a person's age, job, address, etc, may well be useful, it's doubtful whether knowing their hair colour or mother's maiden name is of much relevance.

Keeping the information to only what you need saves time both for your organisation in gathering and processing the data and for those providing the information.

Not only that, but Australia's National Privacy Principles and privacy regulations limit what sort of information you can collect and how it can be collected and distributed, as well as rules on security, disclosure and openness, access and correction of information.

A good rundown of some of the basic privacy considerations you will need to consider is available by following This Link.
Under the National Privacy Principles, your group should not collect personal information unless: it's necessary for one or more of its functions or activities; you have the individual's consent; it is collected by fair and lawful means, and not in an "unreasonably intrusive way".

Generally speaking, you must detail who you are, why you're collecting the information and to whom you are going to give the information.

You must also ensure the individual knows how to access the information you've collected and generally speaking: you must also provide the individual with access to the information you have, if requested; ensure the information you have about them is correct, and do all you can to correct any incorrect information.